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, May 26, 2011

The Sea Wedding and Other Stories from Estonia ilus. by Inese Jansons (1978)

By Selve Maas and Peggy Hoffman.

My artist friend Inese Jansons died in February. I finally framed the piece of art she sent me a couple of years ago, and as a group of friends remembered her, I thought to look up the books she had illustrated. This is one that came up and that was available used through Amazon. Ineses illustrations are delightful, as usual, and since she is illustrating Baltic tales, all the characters are wearing ethnic clothes and feet shod in pastalas, kind of like moccasins, but laced up the leg like a ballet slipper. The main animal characters are also dressed this way. The book is from the 70's, so early in her career. She was so talented, I wish she had done more.

I have read a lot of folk tales in my day, and as a child, plowed through the 15 volumes of collected Latvian folk tales. These twelve tales felt familiar, but none of them was exactly like any Latvian tale I remember reading. There were tales of the sea, of justice, of fairies. One of my favorites was Six Hard-Boiled Eggs - about a man who hadn't paid for his hard-boiled eggs at an inn, and the innkeeper never forgot that debt. When years later the man returns to repay the innkeeper, the innkeeper declares he owes a thousand coins, for if those eggs had hatched, he would have many more hens and eggs to sell. On his way to court, the man meets a farmer, who promises to help him. The farmer rushes in late to the court, says he was planting peas, but had to cook them first. Dah! Cooked peas won't grow and boiled eggs won't hatch. I love these kinds of logic fairy tales.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kristaps Ģelzis, text by Mark Svede (2005)

I have to admit I have had this book for a while, and had looked at the images of Ģelzis' work, but not read Mark's text (shame on me.) Mark always write so well, and brings in his knowledge of the art world in so many different ways. I think what amazed me the most is how well versed my friend Mark is in what is and has happened in Latvia. He is half Latvian, but hasn't followed the normal path of doing all things Latvian, so his grasp of the nuances there are quite astounding. (At least to me, my own grasp of nuances are probably minimal, as I don't keep up with events in Latvia regularly, and just have spurts of immersion with my family, the library world, etc.)

As much as I appreciate art, I do like it when someone explains things to me, so it was great to have images of Ģelzis work, especially his installations, along with Mark's explanations and interpretations. I know he is good friends with Ģelzis, and I recognize a couple of the pieces from Mark's home, so I assume he has a pretty accurate take on what Ģelzis is trying to say.

I chose to read the text in English, as I know that was the language in which it was written, but I did glance over to the Latvian text occasionally, especially when it was an especially complex concept or passage. It was fun to see how it translates into Latvian.


Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse (2011)

Suggested by the audio book store guy. I actually have a couple of her books sitting in my "to read" pile.

Post World War I, Freddie, who has lost his brother in the war and is now lost himself, has an accident on a deserted road in the Pyrenees of southern France, finds himself in a small sad village while looking for help with his car. He seems to hear voices in the woods and at a village party has a deep connection and conversation with Fabrissa, a lovely young woman, who seems to understand his pain. Very interestingly woven story, that ends up telling not only about post WWI, but also centuries before, when villages were destroyed by soldiers of various rulers.


The Sixth Man by David Baldacci (2011)

Obviously I can't stay away from Baldacci, though I wasn't totally thrilled with my last read. But the audio book store had mistakenly put this book on hold for me, so I just decided to go with it. One more Sean King  & Michelle Maxwell story. Again well told.

I liked the main premise, that there might be certain people with the ability to use more of their brain capacity and they could absorb exorbitant amounts of information and analyze it, that they could take all the data that is gathered by our various security agencies and grok it into some valuable actions and policies to protect our country and our world. For example, destroying the opium crop in Afghanistan just makes the Taliban richer, but bringing in seeds of poppies that don't produce good opium and takes them out of being a player in the drug production world actually sounds like a good idea.

Edgar Roy is such a person who can process floods of information, but he is sitting in a high security prison, because six bodies were found buried in his barn. King and Maxwell have been hired by Roy's lawyer to help prove his innocence. When they get to Maine (nice setiing), they find the lawyer dead - and they are off.  The book is full of interesting characters - Peter Bunting, who invented this concept and who got government agencies to actually share information. He is a rather unlikable character in the beginning, but I grew to like him. I liked Kelly Paul and James Harkes, though for the longest time I didn't know which side they were on. At times they seemed to take over the action from King and Maxwell, and I wouldn't be surprised if Baldacci brings them back in future books. Baldacci even creates interesting small characters, like the owner of the inn where King and Maxwell stay - she doesn't care for Maxwell and chides them on spending time together in his room.

With Nora Roberts I know how many dead bodies to expect (usually 3), but with Baldacci, they kept piling up - a bit out of my comfort zone. Strange - I have a comfort zone to how many dead bodies I am willing to read about? How about watch? Many of my TV shows are violent. I guess it ups the ante on the gravity of the situation. The characters are literally facing life and death situations. Wonder if I could find non dead body mysteries? Or maybe ones that just have one? I'll have to start keeping count and see if Lisa Scottoline or other writers are less bloody. Probably someone has already done that on the net. (A quick Google search came up with a sentence in a readers advisory book about amateur detectives often being in less violent books. Authors mentioned were Diana Mott Davidson, Karen Greenland and Elizabeth Peters. I've read a couple by the latter, but hasn't intrigued me.) I also had strong moments of discomfort when the head of Homeland Security was being ultra nasty - ready to kill absolutely anyone who stood in her way. This was actually very similar to Baldacii's first book, Absolute Power (the last book of his I just read), where another highly placed government woman went beserk trying to hold on to her power.

Overall - a good read, but I think I'll take a break from Baldacci for a while.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Raymond Duncan by Adela Spindler Roatcap (1991)

Subtitle: Printer... Expatrieate... Excentric Artist.

This is one of those delightful limited edition monographs from The Book Club of California, and as far as I can tell, the only book about Raymond Duncan, Isadora Duncan's eccentric brother - not that she wasn't eccentric herself. He was born in 1874 in California, but moved to Europe, lived in Greece for a while where he married a Greek woman and started wearing Greek tunics and invented a type of sandal. He wore both exclusively until his death in 1966. For many years he lived in Paris, and after the death of his first wife, he married a Latvian. He seems to be one of the first hippies and simple life advocates, running an academy to teach his life style and promoting arts and crafts in his studios and galleries. Fascinating.


Paris Between the Wars by Carol Mann (1996)

I've been fascinated by Paris since visiting it and reading The Paris Wife. This book provided a great overview of what Paris was like between the two world wars, why it was so appealing to artists of all types. I love the abundance of photos, so I could visualize the place, the art deco, etc. My favorite photo was of two women dancers in shrimp costumes. Even though the photo was black and white, I could just image the bright colors. The most powerful photo was of the 1937 World's Fair, where Germany and the Soviet Union were posturing and squaring off against each other with massive pavilions that dwarfed everything around them, except for the Eiffel Tower. I must have been a strange and tense time. They also provided work for artists in hard economic times. World's Fairs were also an important event in the Tiffany book I read recently. My parents took me to the one in New York in 1964-65 numerous times, and Expo 67 in Montreal.