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, December 29, 2012

2012 Review

This has not been the greatest reading year. The number of books I have read is down - 45 compared to an average of over 60 per year since I started keeping this blog. Partially it has been a very busy year with less time to read, especially this summer, less long distance trips when I usually listen to books, and I also believe I have recorded less of the books I actually read. I know I read a bunch of children's books in Latvia which I did not record. If I find some, I might add them. Plus I have started quite a few I haven't finished.

No book stands out as exceptional this year. I still have to read the latest books of some of my favorite authors - Kingsolver and Erdrich, but I haven't seen them in audio. When I was in Latvia over the summer, I started reading magazines and professional literature in Latvian. I actually read (or recorded) six books that I have read in Latvian this year. One of my favorite books was Anda Lice's Pateikt un pateikties, a biographical book which was made even more relevant by meeting the author and visiting the area where she grew up and now resides.

My other favorites were again mostly historical fiction books: Bliss Remembered (1936 Olympics), Dovekeepers (First century Jerusalem and Masada), Shadow of Night (1590 England and Prague)  Mission to Paris (1938 Europe), The Good Dream (Eastern Tennessee in the 1950's) and The Tenderness of Wolves (mid 19th cent Canada). Into the Beautiful North was a contemporary fiction book about Mexicans crossing the border and Home Front about a female soldier in Iraq and PTSD, while American Creation was a good non-fiction book about the first 30 years of the U.S.

I ended reading 3 books by Baldacci, because he was one of the few American authors I could find in European bookstores. Only 3 books by Nora Roberts this year (one double) and none by JD Robb. Two by Kristin Hannah.

Again, most of my reading was of recently published books - 27 from the last three years, and half of the rest were still post 2000. I did read a couple of classics - Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (in Latvian) and DuMaurier's Rebecca.

I do not apologize for my not necessarily intellectual reading choices. I read for various reasons - to relax, be entertained, live in another world for a while, to learn about other people, cultures, historical times. Sometimes I read to be aware of what others are reading. As a librarian I feel I need to understand different types of genres and to be on top of at least certain trends.

Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012)

Of course I had to read J.K. Rowling's latest book, but it was underwhelming. Since I was listening to it instead of reading it, I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters in the beginning, but had them straight someplace along the way.  It had some similar themes to Harry Potter, factions in the community, open and closed minded folks, teens growing up, but it had sex and family violence that HP did not and the setting in the real world made it just another "what people are really thinking and doing" story.

This is the story of a small English town of Pagford, which sounded like Padfoot (Sirius in Harry Potter) to me in the audio version, and I actually had to go look at a copy of the book in the store to find out how the town's name was spelled. Barry Fairbrother dies in the first chapter and the rest of the story seems to vaguely revolve around him and the "casual vacancy" he has left on the parish council. There is Howard and Shirley Mollison, he being the obese head of the council and owner of a gourmet deli. Then there is their lawyer son Miles and his wife Samantha, who owns a lingerie shop. They have girls we don't get to know. Colin "Cubby" and Tessa Wall work in the school and have a teenage son Stuart or "Fats" who tries to be authentic by being a bad boy. Simon and Ruth Price have a teenage son Andrew, who was my favorite character, who hates his father, wants to protect his mother, stabilize his friend Fats, falls for the beautiful Gaia, etc. Vikram and Parminder Jawanda are doctors with teen daughter Sukhvinder that they don't understand and a couple of other kids. Gavin was supposedly Barry's best friend, but the least likable character, who is having a relationship with Kay Bawden, who's daughter is the beautiful Gaia. Kay is a social worker who cares, but even she has a tough time with the Wheedons. Mom Terri is a heroin addict and prostitute, with teen daughter Krystal and toddler Robbie and they live in the Fields, a low income housing development. Most of the controversy in the book is about the Fields and thus my sense was that Krystal was the central character of the novel. She is a troublemaker, but when you see her living conditions, you see why. She tries to take care of and protect her little brother, but feels she has few options. Barry had involved her in the rowing team. Tessa and Kay both try to help.

I don't regret reading the book. I liked some of the English references that differed from a small town in the U.S. I did come to care for Andrew, Krystal, Sukhvinder, Gaia, less for the adults. Some relationships were cleared up, others were not - like in life. Definitely not in my list of top books for the year.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer (2008)

I really did not like the third book in this series, so I was not going to read this fourth one, but now that the last movie has come out, I wanted to read the book before I saw it, and was pleasantly surprised. I am not fond of vampire literature, so I don’t know the variations out there, but it sounded like this was a pretty interesting take on what it feels like becoming a vampire and a bit about intimate relationships between a vampire and human before Bella becomes a vampire. (She told us she will do this in the previous book.) I enjoyed her slow awareness of all her new powers - her strength, her speed, her superior hearing. Then of course there is their child - again, everyone who has seen any of the trailers knows there is a child. How does one imagine a half human, half vampire child? Lot of it goes way beyond feasible, but then again, the whole premise is fantasy.

There are a lot of interesting characters surrounding Bella and Edward. I like Alice, Edward's sister, who keeps trying to dress Bella up, especially for her wedding to Edward. I was wondering how they were going to keep Jake in the story, now that Bella is married, but of course there was a way that made him very tied to their family. He too was growing up in this story. And then we were introduced to vampires from around the world - each with their own idiosyncrasies, the power hungry Volturi or the South American faction, but each still part of the vampire world imagined by the author.

Bella did not grate on my nerves as she did in the last book, as so much was happening to her, but I am still left with the question of how she plans to fill eternity. This time her library had expanded, but still mainly with just classics. She will have the child to raise, but that is not a job for eternity, and it sounded like parenting for this one will not be as time consuming or intense as it normally is, plus she has a lot of help. Carlisle, the head of the family at least is a doctor, and that could keep anyone busy forever, but for the rest? I wish her well in that forever being 18 and with the one she loves. I also don't get wanting to be with someone 24/7, but that is just me. Looking forward to the movie.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch (1980)

I reread this well know children's book about role reversals and thought it would be good for my little princess in Latvia. I didn't realize that it was form 1980, and was considered a feminist book. I thought it was just a good story of a princess taking things into her own hands instead of waiting for the wimpy prince to save her.

My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis & Lauraa Cornell (2012)

In looking for funny kid books to send to my youngest relative in Latvia, I decided on this, as it took a realistic look at kids lives, encourages imagination and has wonderful illustrations. I like Janie Lee Curtis as an actress, and I was in awe of her when she did a spread in a major magazine, where she was photographed without makeup, fancy hair and clothes, and then glammed up, helping women understand that they are fine the way they are, and those photos in the magazines are very contrived.

Bennett & Camilla by Nora Roberts (2012)

The Playboy Prince (1997)

I want to separate out the novels when she reprints them in pairs, and I am interested in original publication dates of things I read. This was reprinted from the Royals of Cordina series. I read it a while ago, but it was usual Roberts entertaining fare. Bennett is a prince of Cordina (sounds like a Morocco type of country) who likes horses and is know as a playboy. Lady Hannah, who has come from England to be a companion to Eve, Bennett’s sister-in-law, dresses inconspiciously, but of course is beautiful. There is a cloak an dagger part of the story, which of course only brings the two closer together.

Cordina’s Crown Jewel (2002)

She is Her Royal Highness Camilla de Cordina, who as the eldest unmarried Cordina royal gets a lot of paparazzi attention, which finally gets to her at a Washington, DC gala. She takes a rental car from one of the family and takes off incognito exploring Northeastern America and herself. He is Delaney Caine, an archeologist, who is temporarily laid up in his Vermont home with an injury working on notes from his dig. On a dark and stormy night he ends up rescuing her, when her car goes off the road. I enjoyed watching her trying to simplify her life, and him slowly coming out of his grumpy academic mode, both finding things in common. Of course there are the usual misunderstandings found in these books, and the issue of her being royalty, but I enjoyed a glimpse into the world of archeologists.

Dzīves garša by Ilze Jurkāne (2011)

I have never read a cookbook from cover to cover, but since this is an autobiographical cookbook from a woman I knew in childhood, I decided to read it all.  Ilze Auzere now Jurkane  is a few years older than me, so as a child we weren’t really friends, but her mother was one of my teachers and I played in a couple of Latvian school plays with her brother. When Latvia regained its independence, she moved to Latvia, helped set up their banking system, and married a well known politician. Ilze and I had become Facebook friends and I was going to meet her this summer while in Latvia, but then she ended up being out of the country most of the time. She sent me her book – The Taste of Life.

First of all, I was interested in her autobiography, as I knew her whole family. The first thirteen pages is a retelling of her family’s life with lots of pictures. She mentions a lot people I knew or knew of, especially the Hell’s Kitchen crowd, our New York Latvian artist and bohemian group. The rest of the book is really a cookbook divided into 17 chapters, most of them regions of the world. Ilze has traveled a lot, so each region begins with a page relating her travels in the region with accompanying personal photos. If I were to retell my life story, it too would include a lot fo my travels, though I have mostly criss-crossed the U.S. and some of Europe, but food has never been a focus. I have only a few sharp food memories, like my first bouillabaise in a restaurant on a ship in St. Louis or the Swedish smorgasbord in Stockholm, or fresh crab and lobster off the coast of Maine, mussels we picked ourselves in Assateaque Island in Maryland. OK, so if I start thinking about it, I do have food memories, but when I travel, I don’t plan around food.

I have to mention one other cookbook. When I opened a tiny bookstore in SE Ohio back in the late 1970’s, and got in our shipment of books, my partner and I drooled over the Betty Crocker International Cookbook. He said he wanted to try every recipe pictured. I bought the book and started trying out recipes. Soon after I moved to Michigan and had to feed dinner to 19 students in the Latvian program for a whole year. That first semester I did not repeat any recipes using that cookbook (except my lasagna which was from the Moosewood Cookbook.)

Ilze’s cookbook is the ultimate international cookbook with 320 recipes from 55 countries. It has a recipe for just about anything I can think of- bouillabaise or tiramisu or Black Forest Cake. It starts out with American food, as she grew up in the States. It goes through Mexico, Spain & Latin America, Africa, New Zealand, Asia, Mediterranean, France, Italy, Central Europe, British Empire, Northern Euriope, Eastern Europe, Slavic kitchen, Latvia, healthy food and holiday fare. With each recipe she explains when it could be appropriate, what to serve it with and variations. I have tried some of the recipes and they have turned out well. The only slight bump is that all the quantities given are metric, so instead of cups it is in grams and milliliters and Centigrade rather than Fahrenheit for temperatures. I have created my own conversion tables for the book. Some of the ingredients are different than are available here.  I ran into this problem when I tried to treat my relatives to some of my favorite recipes. When I made a cheese cake, there were no graham crackers in Latvia, I had to use other crackers, and am thrilled that Ilze suggests the same ones I ended up using.