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Mirkat Always Reading

I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.

Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury - Wolff-Michael Roth, Holter Graham

It's been about a week and a half since I finished this one, and I've procrastinated on reviewing it.  (Well, part of that is I've been away at a conference this week.)  I am once again copping out on assigning a "star" rating.  I don't thinkof this book as either good or bad.  In certain ways, it confirms what I would have expected about the inner-workings (or lack thereof) of the Trump White House, though in other ways it's my expectations augmented exponentially.  At least two of his inner circle reportedly compared him to a toddler (trying to figure out what a toddler wants; working with a recalcitrant two-year-old).  And of course that is genuinely terrifying.


According to Wolff, the White House staff were essentially divided into two camps:  the Bannonites (aligned with former campaign manager Steve Bannon) and the "Jarvanka" team (aligned with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, both of whom had installed themselves into the White House as loosely defined advisors).  Bannon's vision of Trump as disruptor were at odds with Jarvanka's desire to appeal to more moderate contingents, while positioning their own political rise (Ivanka musing that she'd be the first female president of the U.S.)


The epilogue ends with Bannon making some terrifying pronouncements about "President Bannon" and "Bannon 2020."  


Bottom line:  check out this book if you are curious.  Check it out from your library. (Or download the audio from their website, as I did--though I also downloaded the Kindle version and, again, went back and forth between audio and text).


No, Booklikes, I am NOT reading this book!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  - J.K. Rowling

I did a one-book import of my "currently reading" book over from Goodreads, because it is an edition that (of course) did not--and apparently STILL does not--exist on Booklikes.  A little over four hours later, I received my email notice that the import is "complete."  Yet somehow, this resulted in a completely other book being listed as "currently reading."  






I want to remove this from my currently reading, but I guess I will leave it up for a little while, in case this helps BL figure out what has gone wrong.


Then I will probably spend five minutes doing what I was [gosh-darnit] trying to avoid doing in the first place.  Manually adding a new edition.  Is it so, so wrong that I just want this to be easy?!?!?!!?


Update: Lost my patience, removed wrong book from my import list.  Manually added edition I am actually reading.  Yes, that thing I spent all day trying to avoid.  When I foolishly thought I had a "shortcut."

She Loved Him. He Knew.

The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher

[Grrrrrr.  Another edition I "had to" create--yes, knowing full well I could just shelve one that wasn't "my" edition, but OCD.]


Note that the two stars I am assigning to this book are a "Goodreads" ** and not an Amazon **.  It's more like an Amazon ***.  This book is fair...  There are parts of it that are quite good, but there are parts that are more like filler and some that make me either cringe or feel impatient.


And yes, I miss Carrie Fisher.  Just hearing her voice doing the narration--it was like, "Awww.  Carrie Fisher."  She died such a short time after this book was released, it is eerie hearing her mention her obituary, her legacy, and other related ideas.


The impetus for writing the book was the discovery of journals Fisher wrote during the filming of the original Star Wars film back in 1976, when the actress cast to play Princess Leia was only 19 years old and had been in just one film (Shampoo, with Warren Beatty).   The focus of the journals was not so much the experience of filming the soon-to-be iconic film, so much as it was a three-month affair with the much older, married Harrison Ford.


Fisher shares that she went into the filming with the intention of having an affair, though she never wanted to have one with a married man.  After all, her father Eddie Fisher had notoriously left her mother Debbie Reynolds to pursue his affair with Elizabeth Taylor.  Fisher had seen what it had been like for her mother to be the "left" spouse, and as one of two "left" children, she'd internalized the feeling that she was somehow responsible for her father leaving, because of her not being "enough."


The Carrie Fisher of 2016 prefaces the actual "diary" part with a brief overview of her pre-Star Wars life, leading up to the audition, the news she had been cast, and the time spent filming in London.  She shares the story of a surprise birthday party for George Lucas, where crew members pressured her to drink alcoholic beverages that she didn't actually want, before an odd attempted kidnapping that Harrison Ford intervened in.  The intervention leads to a ride home, which leads to a "sleepover," as Fisher calls it.  No, she provides no lurid details.  Just a fling that comes off rather sad, since Ford is apparently emotionally unavailable and ostensibly misjudges how "experienced" Fisher is at this point in her life (one real boyfriend).


This article sums things up pretty well:  "Carrie Fisher's last Harrison Ford story isn't romantic, it's tragic."


Fisher has another, younger narrator deliver the reading of the diary entries.   They read like what they are:  the journal of a nineteen-year-old.  They alternate between angsty poetry and oblique journals referring to her lover's reticence and possible contempt.  I had to cringe--but not with judgement.  I expect I sounded fairly similar when I was 19.


In the chapter following the journal, Fisher notes that "My affair with Harrison was a very long one-night stand.  I was relieved when it ended.  I didn't approve of myself."


Her answer to "why now" is "it's been 40 years."  For his part, Ford has merely commented that he was surprised when Fisher let him know she was writing about their fling 40 years later.  He has not commented, otherwise.


After the post-journal chapter, the narrative shifts.  At this point, there is another 25% left (according to the Kindle edition).  The last quarter is really about the experience of being associated with the Star Wars franchise, and especially its fans.  Fisher likens autograph signings to "celebrity lap dances," so you can see that she did not consider this a dignified way to earn money.  There are segments where she creates bizarre dialogues with [I expect] fictionalized fans, to the point where I feel she is mocking them.  And as if she heard me thinking that, she assured me:  "I need you to know that I'm not cynical about the fans.  (If you thought I was, you would quite properly not like me, which would defeat the purpose of this book and of so much else that I do.)  I'm moved by them."


Don't worry, Carrie.  I still like you.  Love you, even.  But there were other things I would rather have heard from you, instead of the space you fill not mocking your fans.  That whole section could have been about reuniting with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill for Episode VII, and I would have been all ears.  You share the odd experience of meeting people who seemingly wish you could have stayed the 19-year-old Leia forever.  But I am more than happy to remember you this way:





RIP, Carrie Fisher.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell, Sunil Malhotra, Rebecca Lowman



Here is one of the blurbs on the back of the hardcover edition:


"Rowell keeps things surprising, and the solution maintains the novel's delicate balance of light and dark."  --Publisher's Weekly (starred review)


As I was getting close to the end (switching from audio to hardcover for the last little bit [Chapters 51-58]), I was getting ever more anxious that there simply weren't enough pages to achieve a "solution" as alluded to in the blurb.  Ultimately, I kind of see what the PW reviewer meant, but I was left wishing for more.


Backing up from my reaction to the end--Park and Eleanor's relationship is endearing.  Misfit love in 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska.  In high school.  Park had a mother who is Korean and a father who looks like Tom Selleck.  Eleanor has a doormat mother, four younger siblings and, a horrible, vicious stepfather, Richie.


Some readers might not be into the musical name-dropping (I've seen reviewers who complain about this kind of thing in books like The Time-Traveler's Wife.)  I enjoyed the musical references (I'm three years older than these characters who were 16 in 1986).  I even paused the audiobook to listen to "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (Joy Division).


Eleanor's home situation is so awful, I could only hate her mother for allowing it to happen. The five kids, including an actual baby ("Little" Richie) cower in one bedroom to stay out of Richie's drunken, raging way, and Mom just walks around on eggshells and tries to get the kids to not set off her horrid husband.  The whole thing almost made me want to downgrade my rating, but bad home situations happen in real life, too.  


So, this book has been on my want-to-read list for a long time.  I'm glad I finally listened to/read it.  After having signed up for at least three Giveaways for it on Goodreads....

Created this edition...

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell, Sunil Malhotra, Rebecca Lowman


Again.  And I'm grumpy again.  The publication date on this was 2-26-2013.  All I want is the edition I am actually listening to to already exist.  

Magician King

The Magician King (The Magicians #2) - Lev Grossman, Mark Bramhall


Going back and forth between the books in this series and the TV show has been interesting for me.  So far, I've watched season one, listened to the first book, watched season two, and listened to the second book.  After the first book, one of the things that struck me is how much more time is covered in that first book compared to the first season of the show.  More than five years pass in that book, while on the show, if I recall correctly, just one year of life at Brakebills passes.  Certain events from the second season lined up with content from the first book, and some of what happens in the second book had me thinking, "Oh, right,that scene happened on the show in season one"  Season one of the show followed both Quentin's and Julia's journeys, but in the first book, Julia mostly disappears, while the reader is in Quentin's mind.  The second book follows both characters, and some of that season-one "Julia" material corresponds to flashbacks in the second book. Those flashbacks chronicle Julie's relationship with magic. 


Early on in The Magician King, I was annoyed with Quentin.  He was bored with his cushy gig as one of the kings of Fillory (his co-royals being King Eliot, Queen Julia, and Queen Janet.  He was itching for a quest, and made a tax-collection trip that cost more than the amount of tax collected.  He encounters a customs agent who mentions that she'd assumed Quentin intended to go on a quest for a very special key.  That is not his intention since this is the first he ever hears of such a key.  But the next thing you know, she is telling him pursuing the key would be a terrible idea.  So I was irritated because Quentin of course decides this means he HAS TO pursue that key.  However, things do not proceed the way I expected them to, and instead there is a hefty dose of "don't go on a quest for the wrong reasons."  The right reasons for going on a quest present themselves as the story unfolds. 


The character development of both Quentin and Julia interests me, and I look forward to the next book in the series.  [Warning:  one of Julia's flashbacks involves a disturbing rape scene--if you've watched the first season of the show, you have an idea as to what to expect.]

Into the Water

Into The Water - Paula Hawkins, Laura Aikman, Sophie Aldred, Rachel Bavidge

So, there is a swimming hole know as "the drowning pool."  In the 1600s, teenage girls and women accused of witchcraft were drowned there.  Since then, it's been a place of a string of other mysterious deaths--suicides, murders, undetermined.  The most recent woman to be found dead in the pool is Nel Abbott, who had been working on a manuscript about the women and girls who had died in it over the years, and this on the tail of 15-year-old Katie Whittaker's suicide.  These deaths are one-two punch for Lena Abbott, Nel's daughter and Katie's best friend.  And suddenly Jules, Nel's estranged sister and Katie's last remaining family member, arrives to look after the niece she has never known.


This book ended up leaving me kind of cold.  It is told from the multiple perspectives of a large cast, some narrated in first person, while others are in a more detached third.  The "Jules" sections are often dominated by Jules addressing as "you" her dead sister.  Not my favorite device.  Also interspersed are several excerpts from Nel's manuscript, The Drowning Pool. Although I mostly listened to the audio version, I quickly picked up the hardcover, when I realized that early on I was fairly lost as to who the characters were.  Reading the early chapters in print helped pull everything into place, but even once I was used to the cast, I sometimes found myself needing to think a moment to remember who some of the characters were and how they were connected to other characters.


I did find myself interested in following through to the resolution, but I didn't find the resolution satisfying.

The Time-Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife - Phoebe Strole, Fred Berman, Audrey Niffenegger

I cannot bring myself to assign a star rating to this one, as I am somewhat conflicted about this book.  I'm a sucker for time-travel, I found the premise interesting, and I found myself pulled through the narrative wanting to know how everything resolves.  But there were also aspects I found troubling.


Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, Henry DeTamble comes unstuck in time.  It begins when he is quite young (age five), and he never has control over when it happens or where in time he goes.  He meets Clare Abshire when he is 28 and she is 20.  However, at that point, Clare has known Henry since she was six.  This is because when Henry is 36 (and has been married to Clare for five years),* he begins traveling back to Clare's childhood.  The versions of Henry Clare already knows at that point are ages 36 through 43.  From age-28 Henry's perspective, she is a beautiful stranger who is inexplicably drawn to him and unsettlingly familiar with him.  From age-20 Clare's perspective, it's been two years since her last "Henry" visit, and she has been waiting impatiently to find him in his own timeline.


So, one of the troubling aspects for me is that the many encounters between Clare (age 6-18) and Henry (age 36- 32-43) feel a whole lot like child grooming.  In the early years of her life, he's a friend who helps her with her homework, but he also lets slip that in his timeline they're married, so there is always this air of inevitability that he is her future husband.  I'm queasily reminded of Stephenie Meyer's concept of "imprinting" in Breaking Dawn, when Jacob Black  imprints upon infant Renesmee Cullen.  With imprinting, Meyer takes great pains to specify that in the early years, the relationship is not sexual, that the imprinter is everything the imprintee needs him to be--babysitter, tutor, best friend--before she's of age and the relationship becomes sexual.


Even though Henry insists on waiting until Clare is 18 before having sexual intercourse, Clare begins pushing toward a sexual relationship at a disturbing early-teen age, going for kisses and inappropriate touching  The Henry that she loses her virginity to is 41 years old, and I couldn't help thinking of this as cheating on the age-33 version of Clare.  This type of scenario--Henry having sex with other-age Clares--happens at other times in the narrative, as well.  And neither Henry nor Clare seems disturbed by it.  At one point, one of the middle-aged Henries worries that he might be shaping Clare's life.  No, duh.  Grooming.  I really wish the author had simply NOT had Henry traveling into Clare's childhood, and finding a different way for them to form their bond.


There are also the sex scenes themselves.  I will state up front that I am not a romance reader.  I usually don't enjoy graphic sex scenes, mostly because I think the majority of  authors don't manage to do them well.  In the case of this book, the tone and language of the sex scenes felt incongruent with the rest of the narrative, using porny words that didn't fit with the word choices of the rest of the book.


But despite my misgivings, I cared about the characters, wished them to resolve their problems, and actually got teary a couple of times.  Emotions!


Some other random observations:  The type of time-travel in the book is the sort where everything is already settled; the future has already happened, and nothing the time-traveler does alters what is going to happen.  All of his/her acts are already baked into the timeline.  This came out in interesting ways; however, I do prefer the type of time travel where it is possible to alter outcomes.


When Henry time travels, he cannot bring anything with him.  Therefore, he always lands completely naked, without money, and ravenous.  Much of his attention is devoted to getting clothes, money, and food, and because of that he resorts to pick-pocketing, lock-picking/theft, and other illegal acts.  There is a scene where an adult Henry teaches one of his childhood selves how to pick pockets.  (Yes, his various selves interact with one another.)


An aside particular to the audio narration:  In one of the scenes between middle-aged Henry and child Clare, Henry teachers Clare a phrase in French, noting that her French pronunciation is "already better" than his.  But the male narrator, when speaking French, has passable French pronunciation.  Much later, the female narrator delivers some lines in French, and her pronunciation is not good.  I had to struggle to figure out which words she was trying to say.  If being able to pronounce French well is a character trait, you need to do your audio-casting accordingly, if actually speaking French will be part of the performance.


I read a sampling of reviews for this book on Goodreads, and several reviewers of the text version complained that Henry and Clare "sounded" the same in their narratives.  This is certainly one advantage of the audio version--no mistaking the female "Clare" voice for the male "Henry" voice.


**Update:  I realize I goofed.  Although from Clare's perspective, the first meeting with Henry occurs when she is six and Henry is 36, from Henry's perspective, the youngest he is when dipping into Clare's youth is 32.  Which means he was only married for two when he started all that, which hits me as even ickier somehow.

Talking as Fast as I Can

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between - Lauren Graham

I only sporadically watched The Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, but when I did, I enjoyed the shows and Lauren Graham's acting.  I even liked her character in the short-lived Townies (anyone remember that show--with Molly Ringwald and Jenna Elfman?).  Now that I've listened to this audiobook, I really want to borrow the DVD of the reboot of Gilmore Girls.


A couple of things that were fun for me are that we're the same age (born in 1967), so I get her references, and we both skipped a grade, which has some weird psychology you need to have skipped a grade to understand.


A light, quick read (or listen) from a friendly voice.  I'm now curious about reading her novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe.

Under the Dome (Downtown)

Under the Dome - Stephen King, Raul Esparza

Even though the audiobook was something like 35 hours long, when I got to the end, I didn't want this book to be over.


On a seemingly ordinary October day in the small town of Chester's Mill, Maine, an invisible dome drops down, cutting off the town from the rest of the world. This is particularly bad news for anyone operating aircraft or motor vehicles in the direction of the unseen barrier.


Just before the dome drops down, Dale Barbara, an army veteran and short-order cook, is hitch-hiking to get out of the town, after having gotten into a brawl with some local young men with an overload of testosterone and an underload of sense and intelligence. He almost makes it out, as a young woman driving a truck appears to slow down and consider giving the hitchhiker a ride before continuing along. If only she'd given him that ride. He would have escaped. Or perhaps the dome would have dropped right down on the truck, delayed because of the time it took to pick up Dale Barbara.


It is not long before "Big Jim" Rennie, a used car salesman and the town's Second Selectman*, begins scheming to use the dome to his advantage, to increase his own power and position. Although the town pharmacist Andy Sanders, as First Selectman, technically outranks Big Jim, in practice, what Big Jim wants is what happens. Strengthening Big Jim's power claims is the sudden, unexpected death of the police chief, Howard "Duke" Perkins, who discovers the hard way that pacemakers and the dome do not play well together.


Big Jim wastes no time manipulating the townspeople and weaving an "Us" vs. "Them" narrative. Dale Barbara, aka "Barbie," is a convenient emblem of "them" when U.S. Colonel James Cox and President Obama decide that the former Captain Barbara has been reenlisted and promoted to Colonel. The president has declared martial law and placed Colonel Barbara in charge. But how are the officials outside of the impenetrable dome going to enforce that if Big Jim doesn't want to let someone else be in charge?


The book has a huge cast and a large scope, but manages them all quite well. It's been a day since I finished, and I am still contemplating the book's commentary on the psychology of groups--whether they are town populations, thuggish 20-something hooligans, or kids practicing mindless cruelty as their friends egg them on. It's an engaging plot-driven narrative that sneakily gets deep.


*This is apparently a "New England" thing. Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster:


Definition of selectman: one of a board of officials elected in towns of all New England states except Rhode Island to serve as the chief administrative authority of the town. First Known Use: 1635. See selectman defined for kids.


Under the Dome - Stephen King, Raul Esparza

Someday, when I go to shelve a book I am currently reading, it will already exist in Booklikes, and I won't need to choose between shelving an edition other than the one i am reading/listening to or doing the whole "add a new edition" yet again.  But today is not that day.  (Serves me right for choosing another brand new audiobook from 2014.)

Three Wishes

Three Wishes - Liane Moriarty, Heather Wilds

Although this book was originally published in 2003, this audio edition came out in 2014.  Heather Wilds was the narrator.  Although Wilds was a perfectly pleasant and professional narrator, I couldn't help missing Caroline Lee.  I have come to think of her as the voice of Liane Moriarity's fiction, and she really adds a special element to Moriarty's work.


The narrative opens with a disastrous scene that takes place at the restaurant where the shared 34th-birthday celebration of triplets Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle is taking place.  Fellow diners end up telling and retelling what becomes a piece of viral gossip, as suddenly one of the triplets has stuck a fondue fork into the pregnant belly of one of her sisters.  The waitress who has served the sisters recounts the scene from her own perspective, and then the narrative backs up and lays out a string of events, from multiple points of view, that lead to the events described in the opening.


I enjoyed getting to know Lyn, Cat, Gemma, her parents Maxine and Frank, Grandma Kettle along with spouses, children, and other associates.  As one might expect, the sisters have complicated relationships with one another, with both positive and detrimental effects.  All are facing crises and dilemmas, as they try to figure out what they should be doing with the rest of their lives.


As an aside, I will mention that one of the elements to the book was unrelated, random people would have "vignette" type recountings of having witnessed the triplets in some situation or other (at various stages in their lives--six-year-olds, teenagers, young adults, etc.).  It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that these were random observers--rather than a character who had just been speaking a moment ago, in the prior section.  And I'd wonder why the triplet this character had just been talking to wouldn't jump in and say, "Oh, right, that was US."  I think this is one of those instances where a narrative device would have been much more obvious in print!


So, I do recommend this book--particularly for readers who already enjoy Liane Moriarty.  This was, I believe, her first novel, and she hadn't quite matured into the "Liane Moriarty" voice of books like The Husband's Secret and Big Little Lies, but this is a worthy read, nonetheless.

Review-Language Quirks

Tried this as a "General Chat" thread in the "Goodreads" Feedback Group, but no one cared.  Literally no one.  Hope I can find some readers who care here:


I have many quirks when it comes to language usage in general, and I have certain ones pertaining to book reviews, too. I am guessing many here have their quirks (and peeves), too.

One for me is that I become irritated when I see the phrase "put the book down" to mean "quit the book." Don't we all put books down in the course of reading them? To use the bathroom, make a meal, go to our jobs? Are these reviewers people who read every book in one sitting without ever taking a break?

Why not just write, "I quit/abandoned the book?" "I took a DNF (did not finish)?"

I'm not even sure why I find this as irritating as I do.... 




So, what are your quirks/peeves in book reviews?

Added This Edition

Three Wishes - Liane Moriarty, Heather Wilds

Just added this edition.  Because...  Again...  Of course.


After all, it's ONLY been out for three years, three months, and 21 days....


Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us) - Tom Vanderbilt, Marc Cashman



You are not stuck in traffic.  You are traffic.


Most drivers are not nearly as proficient as they think they are.  Many drivers, based on their inflated sense of their own skills, think they can drive just as well, even if they divide their attention between their driving and their phones.  But they are (at times catastrophically) wrong.


Measures designed to make driving safer can actually make it more dangerous, since they facilitate faster driving and less attention to surroundings.


Individual drivers make choices based on their own self-interest, but those choices are often detrimental to the entire driving system, with the cumulative effect of slowing down traffic flow.


I found this book, overall, interesting and informative.  Certain facts were downright counter-intuitive.  At times, I felt I was being bogged down somewhat with the density of some of the data, but I think it's a worthwhile read/listen.


Still skeptical that roundabouts are safer for pedestrians.  My own personal example is a roundabout at an intersection that is part of one of my favorite running routes.  Several years back, the roundabout replaced traffic lights.  In my experience, the traffic lights provided a clarity that has been removed.  The road that I have to cross now has a crosswalk meant to stop westbound drivers entering the roundabout and another for eastbound drivers who have just exited it.  There is signage indicating that drivers must stop to allow pedestrians to cross.  I can't even tell you how often drivers roll right through, apparently not even considering the possibility of stopping for lowly on-foot travelers.  Usually, my only hope of crossing is if no drivers are close enough to be a problem.

I Read the Heck Out of This But Never Marked as Read/Rated/Posted

The Walking Dead Volume 21: All Out War Part 2 -

I know for a fact that I read this when it came out in 2014.  This was a BFD.  I can't believe I (a) failed to mark it was read (b) failed to rate it, and (c) failed to review it.  Somehow, I did.  And now it's been too long.  ::grumble::  I mean...  NEGAN.