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 24, 2012

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (2006)

As I was helping a friend clean her house of books before she moves overseas, this was one she gave to me saying it was just a nice read. Well, it was more than that. It was historical fiction - 1867 - Canada - Georgian Bay area, though Toronto and Sault St. Marie get mentioned. There is a murder in a small town, Hudson Bay Company men show up, then various groups of people go off north tracking the supposed murdered, a missing son, actually each person has their own reason to go off in the horrible winter weather. The story is told from so many viewpoints, that I sometimes got lost, especially if I had set the book down for a few days. But today I just had to finish it off and am happy to be snug in my warm house.

Life is complicated and often hard, relationships are complicated and hard, no matter at what time in history you live. My favorite is Mrs. Ross, who is sort of the main character in this book, who has a cooled off relationship with her husband, loves her adopted son Francis, has an unusual past, and the spunk to take off with a stranger to look for her son. Francis is a misunderstood teen, who has just lost his good friend and neighbor Laurent, so goes off to track his murderer.

Then there are the other townsfolk - magistrate Knox and his family with beautiful daughter Susannah and smart daughter Maria. The family tragic mystery is what happened to his sister-in-law's two girls who got lost in the woods years ago. They believe the Indians took them, but could never find them and the parents died of despair. Scott's store is the central gathering spot in Caulfield. Or is it Dove River?

Once the murder is discovered, Company men must be called in, so we have Mackinley with his meticulous sidekick Donald Moody and Indian guide Jacob. We eventually meet another Company post commander Stewart and his sidekick Nesbit. Then two outsiders who wander through town - Thomas Sturrock, an educated former journalist, preacher, tracker, and William Parker, a half-breed trapper.

We visit a Norwegian outpost religious community that has taken in Line and her children. And the Company post that is served resentfully by an Indian community. So you see, lots of complex characters, with complex stories, but all in all woven together quite well. I found something endearing in most of them.

The setting plays a very important role with it's cold winter and long desolate distances between inhabited areas. Reminded me of Paulson's Hatchett series, where the boy lands in the Canadian wilderness alone. Survival in this harsh climate requires skill, and we see the details best in Parker's trek. I have rarely taken long walks in the winter - remember some in the Catskills and Vermont. I have explored so little of our northern neighbor. Someday I will take that drive along the northern coast of Georgian Bay - but of course prefer to do it in the summer.

And finally the wolves. They do appear, mostly in the background, in the fear of them from various characters, while others explain that they would not attack humans. We do run into them a few times, and their propensity to leave humans alone is one clue to understanding what has happened. Was the author comparing the brutality of the human race to the "tenderness of wolves"? All in all a good read at the start of our own winter.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich (2012)

I needed something light between Steve Jobs' lengthy biography, and I hadn't read any Evanovich for a while, so I thought I would try this new series with some characters that we met in the Stephanie Plum series. For a while I thought oh no, this is so like the other ones, a bit too obnoxious, but then she drew me in and I actually didn'tmind it, though I don't expect to pick up another one of her books for a while.

This is the Lizzy and Diesel series located in the Boston area, as opposed to Trenton, NJ. Again, Boston are the surrounding area is part of the plot, various neighborhoods are described including Dartmouth in NH. Lizzy has the same energy as Stephanie Plum, except she actually does have a skill set - she is a pastry chef - and a regular job - at a bakery. She has the same kind of pluck and Plum, but has some mystical powers to sense magical objects. This makes her valuable to Diesel, who is a hunk with mystical powers to sense and deal with magical beings. He has a pet monkey Carl and a cousin Wolf, also with powers, but he tends to use them for evil and power hungry purposes. I have met Diesel, Wolf and Carl in one of the Stephanie Plum books, I do not remember Lizzy. Lizzy and Diesel have this strong attraction to each other, but have to keep hands off each other, as if they get involved, one of them will lose their power, and they are unable to predict which one.

This is the second book in the series, and it looks like the structure of the series will be to find a set of seven magical and powerful stones. They have found one in the first book, this time they are looking for the stone of love or is it lust. It starts with a murder of a professor who was studying a certain poet, who apparently left a series of clues to the stone. Some of the clues need a certain type of person to see them - like someone who believes in true love, or someone pure of heart. I liked the clues, the setting. Of course nasty Wolf and his minion Hatchet are also after the stone, as is some crazy woman named Anarchy. Part of the mix is Lizzy's friend and cute space cadet Glow and her boss at the bakery Clara. Most of Evanovich's characters are such exaggerations, as to produce a lot of eye rolling on my part. I am not sure I care for the magical/mystical world construct in this series. When Nora Roberts incorporates magic, it is usually more believable to me. But all in all, a quick fun read.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere (2012)

Touching story of Eastern Tennessee in the 1950's, read by the author in what I assume is an authentic accent. The main character Ivorie tells of going to see Gone With the Wind and is so disgusted with Vivian Leigh's terrible southern accent, that she doesn't ever go see another movie. I love the colorful metaphors in Southern speech: "His stomach rolled over his belt like a sack of cornmeal; I was as comfortable with him as a frog is in a bottle; time feels as long as a mountain's shadow; his heart leaps like a horse let our of its stall." I remember hearing some interesting expressions while living in Southeastern Ohio, but this book was just full of this rich language.

Ivorie is an old maid - the youngest and only daughter in a country family, who stays behind to take care of her parents until they pass away, and now that she is 30, she is alone. Everyone has just about given up pairing her up with someone. She does get somewhat of a beau in George during the story, but what is more important, someone starts stealing food from her garden. She finds that it is a scrawny, silent boy from the hills on the other side of the train tracks and creek.

The boy lives up in the hills with the man, who beats him and doesn't feed him, and his world is bleak except for memories of his mother, who passed away some time ago. Hunger forces him down from the hills into the valley, where he finds Ivorie's garden. When she discovers him, she starts feeding him, but can't get him to talk, at some time realizing he has a cleft palette.

The story is told alternately from Ivorie's and the boy's point of view, later from Ivorie's brother Henry's. He owns the local store and is a focal point in the town. The close sense of family and community was depicted strongly in this small town. I loved the Ivorie character, as she was a woman of gumption for those times. I liked her filling her time with work and canning and cooking in the beginning, giving it away to all those around her. You could see she had a lot of love to give, and luckily, she found someone to give it to.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (2012)

Paris caught my eye again and caused me to pick up this historical fiction book about 1938, when Hitler is getting ready to wage war - with conventional weapons as well as political and psychological ones.

I am writing this on the eve of our own election, when I feel great fear for our nation, as I think it is a very important choice we are making this time. The final result is not clear, and even if reason prevails and my candidate is reelected, there will be close to half the population disappointed, thinking the other side could provide some magic bullet to all our problems. I do not want to get into these specifics, but into the feeling of uncertainty, which must have been felt throughout Europe in 1938. They thought that they had already fought the war to end all wars 20 years earlier, and now there were some that thought it wise to arm themselves against the Germans, while others thought it a waste of money and wanted peaceful talks and compromises. Now I would tend to be the one on the side of peaceful talks, but knowing history, and understanding from this novel that a lot of that talk was fueled by Hitler's spies, I begin to understand the uncertainty in France at the time.

Our hero is Frederick Stahl, an Austrian who has gone to Hollywood to act, but has been asked to film a movie in Paris. The Germans try to use him for their propaganda purposes, and he tries to avoid this as much as possible, but gets pulled into the intrigues of the war. There are lovely women around him, like Kiki from the German baroness' party or Olga, who he meets in Germany, or his own costume designer Renata, a Jew who has managed to flee Germany. One scene really hit me - when the film requires filming on location in Romania, but the company will not pay for plane tickets, and they have a substantial part of their crew that cannot be caught in Germany, as they have left illegally, they have a dilemma. The more wealthy actors and film crew pitch in to buy the plane tickets for those who can't take the train. Someone makes a comment about why can't all of France work this way. There was later some reference to the Jewish studio owners helping out, but I was wondering why they didn't realize the situation with the crew in the first place, but maybe they didn't realize the direness of the situation.

What starts out as just some uncomfortable situations and veiled threats, becomes a full blown thriller with guns and dangerous escapes, which makes for an exciting read.  Except then I realize how many people did not make it through and lost their lives at this time in history. I had never thought of the psychological warfare of this time and was glad to fill in one more small square in my understanding of history.

Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair (2011)

I briefly saw the word Indian in the book info and thought it was going to be about American Indian roots, but turned out to be India Indian - different, but still good. A young girl, born of Indian parents in the U.S., travels with her troubled mother to India to visit her family and learns more about family secrets than she cares to. There really is a girl in a beautiful, mysterious garden. Much of the tragedies in the book had to do with parents choosing husbands or wives for their children. Family structures and relationships with the U.S. were interesting. I wish the author had expounded more on the ayurvedic medicine practiced in the Indian hospital. Still, a great window into another culture, both in our own country and back in India.