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.

My Photo
Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

I am a librarian at Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

Monday, April 22, 2013

End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (2012)

Will Schwalbe was a book publisher when his mother Mary Anne was diagnosed

with pancreatic cancer. On a simplistic level, the book is about the time they spent together before she died, and since they both loved books, they read books together and discussed them. But it is much more.

First of all it is a glorious and clever tribute to his mother, who was such an amazing person with a wide range of interests and careers - theater, Director of Admissions at Harvard and Radcliffe, counselor, refugee camp worker, founder of the Women's Refugee Commission, raised a family with three kids, traveled a lot, loved art, music, theater, and of course- books.

Secondly, it was a wonderful lesson in  how to die gracefully and how family and friends can support someone at the last stages of their life. I felt personal regrets, as I did not find a way to talk to my mother in the last nine months of her life, as she too battled pancreatic cancer. We never were good at discussing problems as a family, and I am afraid she died without some important things being said.

Only thirdly this was a great book lover's book - listing dozens of books the two of them read over a two year period, mentioning many more. I now have a lengthy list of books to read, with abstracts of sorts and a commentary which is beyond your normal book review. I was relieved that I had read at least some of them, vindicated for loving books like Stieg Larsson's The Girl With a Dragon Tatoo. There was commentary on the importance and value of reading, the many forms of reading available today, the social aspect of reading, and much more. The books gave Will and his mother something to talk about during the long waiting periods at the doctor's, in the chemo treatment room, and elsewhere. They also gave them the opportunity to talk through things like dying, family, world problems, solutions, important issues in life, that you might not just start talking about. I really wish I had this way of connecting with my son, and I should try to find someone to discuss books with, as you get so much more out of it, when you do so.

I don't recall the last time I read a book and thought to myself: "I wish I knew this author or person in a book personally." I really liked Will and Mary Anne Schwalbe. At least I have gotten to share their lives through this book.

Playing for Keeps by Nora Roberts(2013)

This is a reprint of two Silhouette books:

Opposites Attract (1984)
I forgot that Silhouette books are too simplistic for my taste. This one takes place on the tennis circuit, where two top players - Ty Starbuck and Asher Wolfe are in love, but some unexplained past issues stand in their way. I guess I did get a better sense of the intensity of the tennis world, and since I have a relative who makes his living training tennis players, it helps to understand the sport, the individuality of it, the need for intense focus. Not that other sports don't need focus, but there is something about having to read your opponent and having to react to what they give you in such an intense way that sounded fascinating. And as in any performance, a lot depends on where your head is at, what is going on in your life, and what you do with your emotions.  They did traipse around the world in this book, but I have liked the Roberts books that are immersed in a particular setting better.

Partners (1985)
At least this romance comes with a mystery, maybe not the greatest mystery, but it added some spice. The book was set in New Orleans, a city I love, but I did not get any flavor of the city, except for the heat, surrounding large estates and the swamp. The romance is between Laurel Armand, a reporter whose father owns the paper, and Matthew Bates, a reporter from New York who has been interested in her since her brother was his roommate in college. They both start investigating the death of a young woman, who might have been murdered. Then Laurel gets warnings to stay away, which of course only leads them to want to investigate even more, and Matt gets to comfort her, which finally brings them together. Fluff, but I kept reading. I have to find the more substantial Robert’s books, maybe stay away from those she wrote for Silhouette.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (2011)

Geraldine Brooks has done it again - created a wonderful picture from another time. And that is all I wrote back in 2011 when I read the book. I do remember it, but have to draw on some details from Amazon.

Bethia Mayfield is a girl on Martha's vineyard in the 1660s. Her father is a minister who is trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and to educate them. She befriends Caleb, the son of a chieftain, who ends up attending Harvard. I do remember what I loved most about this book - reading about the early days of Harvard, and that it did have one Native American student back then. I have already forgotten what actually happened, but as a result, it took years, maybe even centuries, before another Native American attended Harvard. But even Harvard had its meager beginnings, and the way students were taught, the subjects they were taught was all so fascinating. I was not comparing Harvard to my own Cornell, which was established over 200 years later, but with institutions like Tartu University in Estonia which was founded four years before Harvard, and Vilnius University in Lithuania over 50 years before Harvard. But those were established cultures, while the pilgrims had not been there long before they established this institution of higher learning.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

After reading The Paris Wife, I had to read Hemingway's side of the story - or the book he wrote during the time in Paris, as described by his then wife. I realized how much Hemingway wrote of his own experiences in Paris, his love of bull fights, his relation to women. So the author of The Paris Wife had plenty of "primary source" material to use for her own book.

I found that I had never completed this review, so I will leave it brief. I did find the cover of the first edition and found it more interesting than contemporary covers.

Fated by Alyson Noël (2012)

This is the first book in a series called Soul Seekers and is about Daire Santos, the last in a line of soul seekers. Of course she doesn't understand what is happening to her when she starts seeing things and has crows talk to her to the point where they want to institutionalize her. As a last resort, her mother takes her to her father's mother in New Mexico (I kept imagining the Four Corners and Shiprock, where I met an Indian medicine man). Her grandmother starts to teach her about her powers, but of course she is a disbelieving teen. I understand this is a young adult book, but the heavy dose of teen angst and rudeness got in the way of my enjoyment. I know a bit about Native American spirituality and though the book tried to connect with some of it, it did not feel authentic to me. It also seemed like things happened too quickly - in a matter of days Daire had to become well versed in her powers. I do not think it would have hurt the plot to lengthen the time frame, have Daire learn more gradually from her grandmother. Then, though I am well aware of the dark side of power, the dark side seemed too dark, too evil. Reminded me of those Halloweentown movies on TV that I used to watch with my kid. Then there are the twin brothers Cole and Dace - each raised by a separate parent and different as night and day. There were things I liked - the unusual upbringing of Daire as the daughter of a makeup artist for films, who traveled around the world with her mom to different film locations and learned to make each film cast her family. I also liked the grandmother.

The After Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer (2012)

I was looking for a California book to listen to while I was driving in California, so I picked this up - but it was too California for me, too southern CA to be specific. Since I have already given up on two books this year, I thought I would stick it out and see what the author had to say. Hannah works in the reality TV industry, but when her wonderful husband John is killed in a car accident and leaves her with 3 year old daughter Ellie, she loses it. Understandable after such a devastating loss, but somehow I could never quite feel empathy for this woman. She was funny in a way that is not funny to me. Her trio of friends - one earth mother, one aging starlet, one gay TV producer with a highly developed sense of style just did not appeal to me, felt too stereotypical, though they did stick by her side until she finally started pulling out of depression.  The kind of things they choose to do together, which Hannah doesn't enjoy - like going to a spa for cleansing on New Year's just left me baffled. The part that kept me reading was that Hannah could talk to ghosts. In her grief she becomes open to spirits of the deceased. I was wondering where the author would take this. I did enjoy the fact that she changed some people's lives for the better when she gave them messages from deceased loved ones. But though I believe the spirits of loved ones stay around for a bit after they have died, her spirit world was too corny for my tastes. My short trip to LA and SF reminded me that what I love is northern CA and northern Californians - they still wear tie died sundresses, etc. I enjoyed all the people I met, but the world reflected in this book reminds me that I don't want to live in southern California.