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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Currently reading

Fear: Trump in the White House
Bob Woodward

Before the Fall

Before the Fall - Noah Hawley, Robert Petkoff

Disclaimer:  I am giving this book a "Goodreads" two stars; not an "Amazon" two stars.  This is a "this was fair" two stars.


Seven passengers, one bodyguard, and three airline crew members are on a private flight from Martha's Vineyard to New York City, when the airplane crashes into the ocean.  Somehow two of the people on the airplane survive:  an artist named Scott Burroughs, and JJ, the four-year-old son of David Bateman, who runs ALC News, a cable station that appears to be a thinly veiled version of Fox News.  Against the odds, Scott is able to swim about ten miles to the shore of Montauk, Long Island, with JJ on his back, rescuing both of them.


Scott immediately becomes part of the 24-hour news cycle, with most reporters wishing to know more about the "hero" story.  Going against the grain is one of the talking heads at Bateman's network, Bill Cunningham.  Cunningham has recently come under fire for obtaining illegal recordings of various high-profile people's phone conversations, and he is not chastened.  Cunningham goes into tinfoil hat mode, insisting that his friend David was most definitely probably murdered as part of an elaborate conspiracy, and who was this Scott guy anyway, and who cares if he saved JJ Bateman's life, even dogs can be trained to save lives.  Or maybe it's because Ben Kipling, David Bateman's friend and a fellow passenger on the flight, was about to be indicted for laundering money from "non-friendly" nations.


The narrative moves back and forth in time, filling in the backstories of the various people on the plane, which also include David's wife Maggie; a former preschool teacher; their nine-year-old daughter Rachel (who had been kidnapped at age two, hence the bodyguard); Ben Kipling's wife Sarah; the Israeli bodyguard, Gil Baruch; the pilot James Melody; co-pilot Charles Busch; and flight attendant Emma Lightner.


The plot held my interest, and I wanted to find out why the airplane went down.  But once it wrapped up, it seemed the author was rushing.  When the book ended, I said out loud, "that's IT?"  It felt as though it should have had at least one more chapter.


Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Audio) - Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein, Sean Pratt



3.5 stars on Booklikes (this rounds down to 3 stars on Goodreads).


Continuing my obsession with behavioral economics.  Having read The Undoing Project and Thinking, Fast and Slow, I was familiar with many of the concepts and examples discussed in Nudge, but still, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein had a somewhat different emphasis (plus I enjoyed their humor).  I really appreciated their concept of "choice architecture," and I think they have given me much to consider when it comes to applying their "nudge" ideas to life and work (I am in continuing medical education).


The edition I listened to (audio) is not their updated edition, and I am interested to discover what they have added (or changed).  One thing that struck me is how dated their section on same-sex marriage is, now that marriage equality is the law of the land.  I feel as though what actually happened is much more satisfying than any of their recommendations in that part of the book.


Some of their policy-oriented chapters struck me as a little dry, but mostly, I found their insights and ideas salient and applicable.  I believe we can all benefit from becoming choice architects.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Audio) - Agatha Christie

Although I recall seeing David Suchet's Hercule Poirot on the TV series Poirot, this is the first Agatha Christie I've read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A passenger is killed while lying in the bed of his sleeping car one night, and by coincidence, one of his fellow passenger on the same car is the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.  The murderer must be one of the passengers in the train car!


It was fun to witness Poirot's process of investigation, and his gentle, methodical techniques.  I can see why the book is considered a classic mystery.


[The victim was a man identified as "Ratchett," and every time I heard the narrator say it, I thought, "What about Clank?"]

Walking Dead Volume 30: Things Get Interesting

The Walking Dead, Vol. 30: New World Order -  'Robert Kirkman', Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn, Charlie Adlard


In Volume 30, Eugene and a small contingent from his (and Rick's) community reach a contingent from the community of Stephanie--the person on the other end of the radio communications Eugene has been engaged in for a while.  Understandably, both groups are wary, and long-time readers can appreciate the risks inherent whenever the the characters encounter new groups.


I don't want to give away any surprises, but there is a doozy of a surprise awaiting one of the core characters, at the community Stephanie belongs to.  There is a big "Wow" moment.  It soon becomes clear that this large, complex community operates under a fundamental philosophy that is quite different from that of Rick and and his neighbors.  


Will those differences lead to more conflict, or is mutual benefit in the characters' not-too-distant future?  We will have to look to volume 31 and beyond to find out.

Needful Things

Needful Things - Stephen King



An unusual store, Needful Things, opens downtown in Castle Rock, Maine, in October of 1991.  The store's mysterious proprietor, Leland Gaunt, somehow has an object with irresistible appeal for each customer.  Not only does Gaunt produce items his customers find they absolutely must have, for their own private reasons, but the prices he charges are astonishingly low--at least when it comes to the monetary exchange.  But for each transaction, Gaunt insists upon a dollar amount plus one "harmless prank."  The pranks are generally directed at someone the customer has no personal connection to, and Gaunt assures the customer that the pranks are truly harmless.


The pranks are actually calculated to ignite rivalries and resentments, as they essentially frame someone who had nothing to do with the prank in question.  At the same time, each of Gaunt's customers becomes increasingly obsessed with, protective of, and paranoid about the object purchased.  They are convinced that someone will steal the prized possession, so they become hyper-vigilant about it.


With the pranks causing domino effects leading to ever-escalating acts of violence, and Gaunt somehow knowing intimate secrets about every customer--and possibly every town resident--what hope does the town have that sanity will prevail and Gaunt's spell can be broken?


This book sucked me in effectively, and I enjoyed Stephen King's narration.  (Though I was startled when he pronounced "coiffed" as "koyfed.")  The book makes references to several other "Castle Rock" stories, and unfortunately, I'd only read two (Cujo and "The Body").  People who have read all of the previous books and stories can expect a richer experience for it.  Without giving away the ending, I will say that I found it satisfying.

Stranger Beside Me

Stranger Beside Me (Audio) - Ann Rule

This was an abridged audiobook--which I did not actually even realize until I got to the end credits, and "abridged by" came up.  Had I realized this was abridged, I would not have downloaded it from my library's e-collection.


This was...  Okay.  I don't feel as though I gained much insight into sociopathic serial killer Ted Bundy.  Ann Rule by coincidence was friends with him, having met him when they both volunteered for a suicide-prevention hotline.  She of course did not want to believe the handsome, polite friend could have been the perpetrator of the series of murders, kidnappings, and attempted murders that were happening in various places where Ted Bundy happened to be living at the time.  In Washington State, Utah, Colorado, and Florida.  And yet....  It was.  At one point, she makes the strange statement that Ted Bundy had taken lives, but he had also saved them.  She had seen him do so (via the hotline, presumably).


As mentioned above, this was an abridged recording--I have no way to know whether the full book provides a deeper analysis of Bundy.  If you are curious, go ahead and find the full text at your library.  But I suspect you can find out just as much via online searches and Netflix specials on murderers.

Good and Mad

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger - Rebecca Traister

"Anger is an energy."


--John Lydon


"If you're not angry, you're not paying attention."




As Rebecca Traister points out in this book,  women are constantly discouraged from experiencing or expressing anger.  It's unattractive; it's not received well.  Female politicians who dare express anger are chided and/or ridiculed, while their male counterparts are lauded when they do so.  Women are told anger is unhealthy; it needs to be pushed down, or it needs to be sublimated.


But as Traister demonstrates, throughout history, women's righteous anger, when channeled into political action and organizing, has effected real change.  And many women who had never considered activism or politics have been mobilized by the excesses of the Trump regime, as well as systemic abuses of male power that have been exposed (so to speak) following the Harvey Weinstein revelations.  In 2018, women have run for political office in record numbers.


Traister encourages women not to suppress the anger, not to revert to silence and comfort, but to continue so that the current "moment" continues to become an ongoing movement.


This is an important book.  Angry women should read it for reassurance that they are not crazy; that they can use their anger in productive and healthy ways.  Women who are not angry should read it to understand why other women ARE angry and to consider why they themselves are not.  Men should read it to understand why women are angry and should not be talked out of it.  And if many of them can become allies, that would be great, too.

Thinking, Fast & Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow (Audio) - Patrick Egan, Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman uses the metaphor of "System 1" and "System 2," coexisting "characters" in our brains responsible for the two types of thinking the book's title alludes to.


* System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.


* System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.  The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.


System 1 is in charge of our brains most of the time, making quick, intuitive judgments.  System 1 relies heavily on our biases, without our necessarily being aware that this occurs.  When confronted with a complex question that needs the resources of System 2, System 1 is liable to make a quick substitution, answering a simple, replacement question instead.


System 1 can serve us well, except when it doesn't.  It's a feature that can sometimes be a bug, and this book provides a series of frameworks that can help identify when it's useful to hack our systems and get the most out of the two systems.


As I mentioned in my review for The Undoing Project, I've become fascinated by behavioral economics and the thinkers whose work has shaped it.  I will say that this is very much a system 2 book.  It should be read carefully, and I hate to say it, but I realized by listening to this, that audiobooks lend themselves more to system 1.  The upshot is I often found myself rewinding to listen to something I realized my brain had only partially taken in (because it decided to go off on a side trip).  I also checked out the hardcover edition from my library, and I intend to review it.


The value of this book is understanding how to make better decisions and create frameworks that also help others to do so.

BOOKLIKES! WHY Did I need to ADD this!?!?!?

The Walking Dead, Vol. 30: New World Order -  'Robert Kirkman', Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn, Charlie Adlard

Yes, I know it was published just over a month ago, on 9/11/2018.  But IT'S THE WALKING DEAD!  Just HAVE THINGS I WANT TO READ!  HAVE THEM!  THAT'D BE GREAT, THANKS!!!!

Walking Dead Volume 29

The Walking Dead Volume 29: : Lines We Cross - Robert Kirkman

I read this. I absolutely did. And I can't believe I never rated and reviewed it--and now I can't actually remember the date(s) I read it.*


So it's been a while, but I recall this being one of those transitional volumes that sets up the next big plotlines. On to volume 30!


*It came out in March 2018, and I will estimate that I read this sometime in April.

Let Your Mind Run

Let Your Mind Run - Michelle Hamilton, Deena Kastor

To my fellow runners:  Have you ever had this experience--where you are running (race or training run) and find your mind filled with negative self-talk?


Why am I so slow?

Why did I register for this race?  I can't DO this!

I can't keep up with [other runner]!  What's WRONG with me?!?!?

No, not a HILL!  This will kill my pace!


Chances are, if you run, you have first-hand knowledge of the destructive potential (and pervasiveness) of thought patterns like these.  What if you could turn around the way you think, so your thoughts can boost your performance and overall fitness?  Whether this is something you've personally mastered or something you aspire to, I believe you will find value in this Deena Kastor book.


Deena Kastor started running as a middle-schooler, taking to the sport after her parents had encouraged her to try a variety of activities.  Soon she was winning races, and those wins carried through into high school.  In those early days, pure talent was fueling the victories.  Races were for running hard, and practices were for having fun.  When the wins became harder to come by, that was modified to hard running for races AND practices.


The high-school running led to a scholarship to university in Arkansas, but by the time she graduated, running had lost its luster.  Deena was on the verge of pursuing a career as a baker when a friend encouraged her to train with a coach in California and give professional running a try.  A phone call with the coach convinced her to move to his town.  They clicked, and part of Deena's journey as a runner involved learning to use positive thinking to support her training and racing.  She cites many of the sources she consulted, which readers might be interested in checking out on their own.


Along the way, she married Andrew Kastor, had a baby girl named Piper, steadily progressed and set records in a variety of distances, from 5k through marathon, and eventually formed her own racing team--benefiting from her and Andrew's knowledge.


This book is relevant to me as a runner, and I can't comment on whether non-runners would be interested in it (though anyone can use positive thinking for various pursuits).  But this is definitely a great choice for runners, especially those looking for strategies to get out of their own way and train their brains to help rather than hinder their progress.


Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier - Mark Frost, Annie Wersching

The way I found this book was I was doing an online search to figure out what had just happened in the final episode of Twin Peaks the Return. I found a couple of articles that cited this book as filling in gaps and explaining some things that are suggested on the show but not fully explained. The story is told in the form of FBI case files reported by the FBI agent Tamara Preston. Annie Wersching does a great job with the narration. 

Very specific audience: If you have seen the new series and would like good gloss on what you just saw, definitely read/listen to this book.

Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes: How to Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In (Audio) - Dennis Boutsikaris, Roger Fisher, William Ury

I think this is one of those books that anyone can benefit from.  Everyone needs to engage in some form of negotiation, and this book provides valuable strategies anyone can use.  Recommended for all human beings.

Where There's Smoke & Larger Than Life

Where There's Smoke (Short Story) and Larger Than Life (Novella) - Jodi Picoult, Kathe Mazur

"Where There's Smoke" is a short story, and Larger Than Life is a novella.  These two short pieces are mini-prequels to Leaving Time.  The first features psychic Serenity Jones, while the second is narrated by Alice, the elephant researcher whose disappearance in Leaving Time forms that book's central mystery.


This was a quick, four-hour listen, and was a bit like accessing DVD extras, filling in some background information on the characters in question.  The stories are not essential for readers of Leaving Time--I'm glad I read the novel first, but  I don't think that reading in the opposite order would hurt anyone's enjoyment of either work.

This is Me: A Self-Help Memoir

This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today - Chrissy Metz

As Goodreads reviewer Katrina wrote, "I can see this getting mixed reviews because it [toes] the line between memoir and self-help. The result is that it does neither very well."  I agree.  This book ends up being a self-help memoir, and I think it would have been better to choose one lane, namely the "memoir" lane.  I can appreciate the desire to help others with the tools and insights Chrissy Metz has found for herself--but perhaps she could have framed them as "here are techniques that work for me."


Metz had a difficult childhood, with an abusive stepfather, an absent father, and a mother struggling to raise five kids and keep things together.  She found an inner strength and forged a path to make her dreams come true.  And she is eager to help others overcome their own struggles, and that's awesome.


Some misgivings I have:  Metz seems to be an adherent of "The Secret"/"Laws of Attraction."  I have issues with this, as expressed in my review of The Girl Code.  I can appreciate the spirit behind that perspective, but I feel it has some unfortunate implications.  I can also appreciate reflecting on a difficult situation/experience and considering "What can I learn from this?"  But I have much more trouble with the idea that the universe conspired to create the situation/experience in order to issue a lesson.  Just no.


Related to that, Metz's stepfather was horrible to her.  He was both physically and emotionally abusive.  She maintains a relationship with him, having accepted a clumsy apology from him, and notes in the book that his abuse made her feel that nothing can break her.   I have some serious misgivings about this.  Although it is obviously not her intent, I have seen this type of statement used as a justification for abuse.  This reasoning has been used by abusers and has also been a reason for victims of abuse to perpetuate the cycle of abuse on their own children/wards.  "This is how I was treated, and it made me tough, so I will do the same thing to my own kids!"  Again, I am not suggesting that Metz in any way endorses this reaction, but I can't help thinking her words might be misused that way.


I really appreciated the story that Metz shared, as well as her conversational, sit-with-me-and-I'll-share-my-story tone.  Metz has great insights into human behavior and shares some excellent strategies for navigating conflict and prioritizing one's personal dreams.  I recommend the book for those aspects, with the caveats noted above.

Secrets She Keeps

The Secrets She Keeps - Michael Robotham, Lucy Price-Lewis

Meghan is a popular mommy blogger married to Jack, a sportscaster.  They have two beautiful children, six-year-old Lucy and four-year-old Lachlan, and Meghan is pregnant with their third child.  Agatha, who works part-time stocking shelves at the London grocery, is an avid fan of the blog and watches Meghan from afar until a chance encounter in the store leads to a friendship.  Agatha tells Meghan that she is also expecting a baby, right around Meghan's due date.  


The novel switches back and forth between Meghan's and Agatha's first-person, present-tense narration.  Agatha has struggled to get in touch with Hayden, deployed overseas with the Royal Navy, to tell him that their brief liaison has led to a pregnancy.  Eventually, her communication with a navy liaison forces the issue and compels him to get in touch by Skype.


Although the title refers to the secrets "she" keeps, there are multiple characters keeping secrets, and not all of them are female.  The novel is not really a "whodunit," because the "it" unfolds so that the reader knows the doer, and the suspense comes from how the events unfold and how law enforcement figure out what has happened.  I won't get into more detail than that (to avoid spoilers), but I found this book utterly addictive.