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, October 24, 2013

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

I do not know why I picked up this book, I am not familiar with the author, but it
seemed outside the thriller genre, which I did not want to be reading for a while. Our narrator is looking back on his life from his retirement years and remembering school buddies, his first romance. Some things happen in the present that make him revisit those school years, analyze those relationships. The setting is Britain in the 60's, so just a decade before my own history. I liked his comment that the changes of the 60's did not reach everyone, it depended where you were and who you were. I was not that far removed from the time to know that things like dating and relationships were different back then.

I liked this self analysis, contemplating history, how memories of events differ, how we interpret what we see, hear about, remember. I feel I am spending some time on this type of contemplation, looking back at my own life. And then to make it even more relevant, there are a couple of suicides in the book by young people, and I am just dealing with one in my own life - a student I was working with on a few projects. You may never know what triggered that self destructive act.

The main character Tony is supposed to get a bit of money and a diary after the death of his old girlfriends mother. He tries to get the diary by contacting Veronica, the old girlfriend. She was not easy to understand in her youth and has become even more enigmatic in the present. She keeps telling him that he "just doesn't get it," but since she doesn't tell him anything, I am not sure how he was supposed to "get it." The only thing that was unsatisfying is the ending.Tony tries to figure out what happened to Veronica and his old friend Adrian that committed suicide and whose diary he was to have. In the end Tony seems to understand what happened, but I didn't. Again, the audio version of the book didn't help, but I listened to the ending twice, and still only understood a part of what Tony understood. I would have to go back to different parts of the book to see if I could decipher it. The book was still worth reading. I should take time and write down my own thoughts outside the snippets that appear in my blogs.

When I have questions about a book, I see what other people have said about it. If I want a better summary of the book, I can read it on the author's site. The book received the Man Booker Prize. I liked the quote in the Wikipedia from BBC news: " It's a quiet book, but the shock that comes doesn't break stride with the tone of the rest of the book. In purely technical terms it is one of the most masterful things I've ever read."  And then I go check out Amazon, because the reviews there are by regular people, not reviewers. There were plenty who did not understand the ending, and I didn't find any that did explain it (but there were hundreds of reviews and I only have so much time.) One review by Third Age Traveler had pulled out some quotes from the book (s)he liked, and those were memorable for me too, so I will repeat them here:

"...of course we were pretentious--what else is youth for?"
"...our fear: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature."
"If you'll excuse a brief history lesson: most people didn't experience "the sixties" until the seventies. Which meant, logically, that most people in the sixties were still experiencing the fifties--or, in my case, bits of both decades side by side. Which made things rather confusing."

"Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts (2013)

I thought it was time for another Nora Roberts book, and found myself in another mystery. Eli Landon found his wife dead almost a year ago, and has been fighting off accusations that he is the killer, but there is not enough evidence. He decides to get away for a while at Bluff House, his family home on Whiskey Beach a couple of hours north of Boston. His grandmother had a nasty fall and is recuperating in the city, so he will come and live in the house for a while. The house is being maintained by Abra Walsh, who has also been instructed by grandma to watch out for Eli and nudge him back to health. I don't quite remember a character like Abra in Roberts' books.She has left the corporate world behind and instead cleans houses, instructs yoga classes, does massage, makes jewelry, smudges bad energy from homes - all so new agey. I also think this is the first time I have seen massage (therapeutic) used, which can lead to other things between consenting adults. I did like the way Eli and Abra healed each other. The break-ins to Bluff House, another murder, lost family treasure, those of course add to the suspense of the story. Plus it is true that going through traumas lets people see each other in a different light and can bring them together. I also liked the fact that they were going though old family papers in the attic - very similar to my recently finished Orphan Train book.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013)

At the Barnes and Nobles in Silver Spring, MD, where I hung out with my 16 year old goddaughter for an hour or more, I found a display shelf with 30 books that looked familiar. I had read at least 7 of them and know I had looked at or heard of many of the others. This felt like a shelf of my kind of reading. I pulled up a chair and read the blurbs on each one, making a list of ones I really would like to read, so I can look them up in my audio book store. This is the one I chose to buy. We librarians keep talking about liking the feel of a book in our hands, and this one felt strange. It was a floppy medium size paperback that I could curl back to hold with one hand, but at times it flopped strangely. The long edge of the open pages were rough cut - I remember some of the Latvian books at home came with uncut pages, and you had to slice them open with a knife before you could start reading the book. You could also tell if a book was never read, if it was still uncut. But these pages had the same feel as the ones we cut open ourselves. And then, though it is a paperback cover, it has flaps, which can work as book marks for the beginning and end, but seemed to get in the way more than help.

I remember reading another book - Rodzina by Karen Cushman (2003) -about orphan trains that brought orphaned children from cities out west, supposedly to find new families, but often worked hard as servants and sometimes took the young girls as child brides. Author Kline has done thorough research and found that people who had been sent out on these orphan trains have been contacting each other, organizing reunions, writing books. I appreciated her acknowledgements to all the places she had done her research, including the New York Public Library that had lists of orphaned children from the Children's Aid Society.

What drew me to this book was not just the orphan train story, since I had read one of those already, but how Kline tied that in with a foster child of today. Molly has to do community service (for trying to steal a copy of Jane Eyre from the library of all things) and ends up helping this rich old lady clean out her attic of memorabilia, and they find they have more in common than anyone would have realized.

I felt the Kline did a good job of conveying that total feeling of abandonment and loss felt by both the Irish immigrant girl Nimaha in 1929 and current day foster child Molly, and 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

English Girl by Daniel Silva (2013)

Silva was suggested to me by a younger colleague as a good thriller writer. In Latvian I have started calling these "burlaku romāni", novels about "burlaki" or bad guys that are suspenseful enough to keep me awake on long drives.

Madeline gets kidnapped while vacationing on Corsica. Soon a retired Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, gets pulled in to look for her, as it turns out she has friends in high places at 10 Downing Street. We get taken on a wild ride through Israel, France, England, Russia and a few other European countries on the way.

I liked the fact that this was reflecting current day politics of Europe. I liked that Gabriel was on top of current events, but also a painter and art restorer, not a totally ruthless killer, middle aged, and that he appreciates and really loves his wife.

When it looked like the girl would be found fairly easily, I knew that wasn't going to happen, as the book was only a quarter of the way in. The various twists and  turs were quite interessting, maybe even confusing in the end.Once again I listened instead of reading the book, so it is not easy to flip back and reread some part.

I will keep Silva in mind when I need a book to keep me awake, but I think I have read enough of these recently. So hopefully I will read other genres for a while.