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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Currently reading

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

Truly Madly Guilty

Truly, Madly, Guilty - Liane Moriarty, Caroline Lee



Hear Sydney mother and well-known cellist Clementine Hart share her story:  "One Ordinary Day."


Clementine has been delivering this talk to local "community" groups at settings like libraries and similar meeting places.  The book opens on one of these talks, two months after the "ordinary day" in question.  On that day, Clementine, her husband Sam, and their young daughters Holly and Ruby attended an impromptu barbecue next door to the house of Clementine's oldest friend Erika.  Originally, Erika and her husband Oliver had invited the Harts to their home for tea, but their gregarious neighbor Vid, inspired by the beautiful day, made the spontaneous invitation when Erika encountered him on her way home from picking up refreshments for the tea.


The "ordinary" day takes an unexpected turn that affects everyone who was there--and in the couple of months that have passed, everyone questions what exactly happened and why.  What if the barbecue hadn't been held?  What if the invitation had been declined?


Clementine and Erika have a complicated relationship.  When they were very young, Clementine's mother Pam, a social worker, noticed little Erika sitting alone and urged Clementine to "be kind" and befriend her.  Erika's mother Sylvia had become a hoarder following her husband leaving.  Pam became something of a surrogate mother to Erika, and their home a refuge of order and cleanliness.  There is an element of rivalry, among other traits, to the friendship between Clementine and Erika.


The narrative moves back and forth in time between the day of the barbecue (plus the day right after) and a time frame that starts two months after that fateful evening.  The narrative perspectives (told in third person) include Erika, Clementine, Sam, Oliver, Vid, Vid's wife Tiffany, and Vid and Tiffany's daughter Dakota.  There is a bit of a spiral effect, as the book takes the reader bit by bit through the fateful day and reveals just why it turned out to be not so ordinary.  I don't want to give away any of the book's secrets, so I will just say I felt it was a trip well worth taking.


Although I was primarily listening to this narrative in audio format, I had also checked out the hardcover, because sometimes when I listen to something, my brain takes a little trip, and I like to review certain bits of the text version after this happens.  Then sometimes I get so involved in the text version, I end up finishing that way.  Which is what happened this time.  I ended up reading maybe the last 20-25% as text.  Then as I was writing this review, I recalled that the audiobook had bonus content at the end:  an interview between narrator Caroline Lee and the author, Liane Moriarty.  So I took a little break to listen to that--it's mostly the narrator interviewing the author.  One interesting tidbit is that Moriarty never listens to the audibooks, just as she doesn't read her finished books, but she gets a lot of positive feedback about Lee's narration.  This is the third Liane Moriarty book I've listened to/read, and I've come to appreciate that Caroline Lee really adds something to the characterization.

Now Habit

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play (Audio) - Gildan Author, Neil A. Fiore


If you have a choice between listening to the audio version of this or reading the text version?  Go for the text.  This is definitely an instance where the author should not have read his own work.  Think equal parts William Shatner, B-movie hypnotist, and narrator of a 1950s filmstrip designed to be watched by eighth graders when they have a substitute for science class.  I was tempted to quit this book as soon as it started because of the narration--but the topic inspired me to stick with it.  I did check my library's catalog for a text version.  No ebook, and the one print copy they have was due back in April.  So apparently, the patron who checked out this book on overcoming procrastination had been procrastinating on returning it for almost four months.


I think the techniques Fiore describes for transforming from a procrastinator to a "producer" are solid.  Since I've only just completed the book, I haven't been able to implement them extensively, but I've already begun to apply some approaches, such as doing 30-minute chunks of focused work.  I really wish I had this book before I undertook my doctoral dissertation.  I would have used his "unschedule" to build in recreational and restorative activities and realistic blocks of work time, instead of living under the thrall of "I should be working on my dissertation" at all times.


Although there are useful approaches to be gleaned from the book, at times I felt the author was being overly repetitious.  And as an example of the disadvantage of listening to this in audio format, there was a section where he went through a few different guided relaxations, one right after another.  They were all very similar (read REPETITION) to one another--and one feature a SOLID TWO MINUTES OF SILENCE.  I even checked my player to make sure the battery hadn't died.  At the conclusion of the two minutes, he came back with, "Did that feel like two minutes?"  Nope, it felt like an eternity.  I really think for the purposes of the audiobook, that part should have been moved to the end as an appendix.  

Small Great Things

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult, Audra McDonald



Ruth Jefferson has been a neonatal nurse for over 20 years, at a small hospital in New Haven, CT.  She is a great nurse who loves her job.  During a routine newborn check, she is startled when the baby boy's father, Turk Bauer, insists on speaking with Ruth's supervisor, who subsequently informs her she is not to care for or even touch this young patient again.  The Bauers are white supremacists, and Turk has requested that no one who "looks like" Ruth touch the baby.  Ruth is African-American..


After having worked a double shift, Ruth is asked to watch over the baby, Davis Bauer, who has just undergone a routine circumcision and needs to be observed.  Because an emergency c-section has pulled all other available personnel away, Ruth is the only left to do so.  When he goes into cardiac distress, she faces the impossible choice of complying orders by doing nothing or defying them to administer to him.


When there is a adverse event, Ruth becomes a target and faces serious criminal charges.  The public defender assigned to her case is Kennedy McQuarrie.  The book has as its three first-person, present-tense narrators Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk.  The audiobook has three separate narrators for these roles, which I found really effective.  The book takes on race issues in a way that honors and explores the complexities associated with it, as the characters all recount their perspectives, and they all go through their own complicated journeys.  This is my second Jodi Picoult novel, after Leaving Time, and she's definitely become a favorite author.  She has a way of writing books I want to climb into so I can shut out the outer world until I'm done.


I had some uncanny timing with this book.  I'd placed a hold on the downloadable audiobook from my library's site ages ago. Just when I needed to make my "reader's choice" selection for my library's summer-reading program, this book finally became available.  

Adding-book woes

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult, Audra McDonald



So I just added this book, because of course my edition didn't exist yet (here or on Goodreads).  And I am so sick of adding editions but too OCD to shelve anything other than my exact edition.  And once again (this happened the last couple times that I added editions), I got a "524" timeout error.  So you wouldn't actually know that the edition has been successfully added, except that the other times I got this, it turned out that despite the error, I'd completed the edition add.  And so too, have I done so just now.  I just wish it were smooth and easy like this:  I enter my ISBN into the search box, and...  The book exists!  And I shelve it.  BOOM!  But no....

Mother's Reckoning

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy - Sue Klebold, Andrew Solomon



On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, before taking their own lives.  It was later discovered that they had placed explosives in the cafeteria, with the intention of blowing up the entire school, and only carried out the shootings when the explosives failed.  The shocking act of violence inevitably led to questions about how these boys reached this state of wishing to perpetuate a massacre.  One of the most common assumptions was that the boys' parents must have done something wrong in their parenting.  They must have somehow perverted their sons' moral compasses, perhaps via abuse and/or neglect.  They must have ignored obvious signs that something was very wrong with these kids.


Sue Klebold shares her own experience, as the mother of a son lost to murder-suicide.  She reveals that Dylan was raised in a loving home, with parents who strove to teach their kids the difference between right and wrong.  In retrospect, she has recognized that there were some signs that Dylan might have been depressed, but he also appeared to be on track for a bright future, having decided to attend the University of Arizona in the fall.  In the aftermath of the shooting, she became active in suicide prevention.  She has gone to great lengths to conduct research--both into how her son came to be a participant in the crime and more broadly into suicide and its prevention.


In the introduction, Andrew Solomon writes, "Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other's necessary conditions."  On the following page, he writes, "Eric was a failed Hitler; Dylan was a failed Holden Caulfield."


I chose this book as my read for "Week 6 (August 7-13) - Challenge yo’ self! (read outside your comfort zone)."  I decided to interpret reading outside of my comfort zone as choosing an "uncomfortable" topic, which this undoubtedly is.  It is especially troubling to read this as the parent of a teenage boy.  Sue Klebold shows just how much a teenager is capable of hiding from parents, no matter how caring and well-meaning those parents are.  Teens who are struggling are likely to feel ashamed of their problems they are grappling with, and hiding them from their parents may be their way of trying to hold onto their parents' regard.


I think this book adds an important voice to uncomfortable conversations we all need to be engaged in, when it comes to recognizing and supporting people in crisis.

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line - Jennifer Graham, Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell



Fun Veronica Mars mystery that will appeal to fans of the show and the movie.  This book picks up three months after the action covered in the film (which I promptly checked out from the library and watched upon realizing the book was making references to it, and I still hadn't seen it).  The book, like the film, is set in 2014, ten years after Veronica graduated from high school.  In the interim, she has completed undergrad and a law degree from Stanford.  Although she's had a lucrative job offer with a Manhattan law firm, she's found herself drawn to her father's PI business, Mars Investigations.  And now there is a juicy case to investigate:  two girls have disappeared from a mysteriously bankrolled spring-break "party" house, and the Neptune Chamber of Commerce is eager to stop a "Nancy Grace"-style cable-TV commentator from continuing to warn parents away from allowing their college-aged children from spring-breaking in Neptune, CA.  And of course, the incompetent but politically expedient Sheriff Lamb can't be relied upon to solve the case.  So enter Veronica.


As a fan of the show, I of course pictured the actors who played Veronica, her father Keith, hacker friend/colleague Mac, love interest Logan Eccles, and others.  The mystery is just twisty enough to keep things interesting, and Veronica's wit and humor makes the story fun.  I suspect that even readers who didn't follow the show can enjoy this, but they might decide they want to catch up on DVD or Netflix.  It's just three seasons (sob), so go for it!  (Watch the movie, too.)


I am using this book to fulfill the week-five theme of my library's summer-reading program:  Genre fiction (mystery, of course).  There is a book two to this series, but the library doesn't own it (hint, hint).


The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) -  Mark Bramhall, Lev Grossman



I watched the show first.  My husband checked out the DVDs of season one from the library. I quickly got hooked, and when I noticed that the show was based on a book, I put in a request for the downloadable audiobook, from the library's e-collection.  It took a while for the audiobook to become available, and when it did, the library's summer reading program was in full swing.  Since the theme for week four (this week) is "award winner or classic," I hoped against hope that this book was award winner...  And it is!  ALA Alex Award (2010) and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (2011).


While in the show, Brakebills is a graduate school for magicians, in the books, it is an undergraduate program.  I initially had a moment of "Aw, boo."  But then it occurred to me that this helps explain why, on the show, I thought Brakebills didn't "feel" like grad school.  I am guessing that the change was because certain mature situations from the book might seem less objectionable for 22-year-olds than 18-year-olds.


So, The Magician focuses its third-person limited narration on protagonist Quentin  Coldwater.  It traces his acceptance into the Brakebills program, his completion--in four years--of its five-year program, and his first few post-Brakebills years.  I enjoyed this book, though it some ways, the pacing seemed odd.  In some respects, the narrative felt rushed--like years at Brakebills would race to their conclusion.  But then certain conversations and actions would seem dragged out, bogged down with more detail than needed.


One of the primary differences between the show and the books is that the first season mapped to one year of school.  Presumably, each season will be devoted to a year of school (though if they want to go more than three seasons, they'll need a post-school era, since the grad program on the show is three years).  One of the things I appreciated about the book is that all of Quentin's friends from Brakebills have read and loved the "Fillory and Beyond" books (a series that, in the book's universe, has the popularity of the "Harry Potter" franchise).  On the show, the other characters treat Quentin as if liking the books makes him a bit of a dork.  Otherwise, although the way the stories are unspooled differs, the show and book hit many of the same major plot points.  But I will say the differences are significant enough that viewers of the show and readers of the books can still enjoy the other medium.

Dratch Walks into a Bar

Girl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle - Rachel Dratch



Rachel Dratch is known primarily for her tenure as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.  After having been initially cast as Jenna on the sitcom 30 Rock, and shooting the pilot, she received the news that the role was being recast (Jane Krakowski) and that she would be given a series of small, walk-on roles.  After those walk-on roles were phased out, Dratch didn't get offered many more roles, and the ones she did get offered spoke to some disappointing type-casting.  This memoir mostly focuses on the "not-Hollywood" portion of her life after SNL and 30 Rock, but with some background on the path to those shows and her experiences on them.  Life takes an unexpected turn when Dratch Walks into a Bar and meets John, unexpectedly finds love, and even more unexpectedly--while on the verge of turning 43--becomes pregnant.


Dratch is a highly relatable and also hilarious narrator (in both the writing and audiobook senses), and as with her friends Amy Poehler and Tina Fey's memoirs, I often found myself laughing out loud.  Like a crazy person.  While listening during runs and walks (out in the open).


This was my "non-fiction" selection for the Albany Public Library adult summer-reading program (week three).  Next up:  week four--award winners.

Eligible (and Prejudice)

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice - Curtis Sittenfeld, Cassandra Campbell



In this modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice,  the way people know that Chip Bingley, an ER doctor "in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” is that two years before, he appeared on a Bacheloresque dating show called Eligible (without selecting either of the two female contestants who made it to the final episode).  The Bennet family in this version of P & P reside in a ramshackle Tudor home in Cincinatti, Ohio, and of course Mrs. Bennet is convinced that Dr. Bingley will be just right for one of her daughters.  Jane Bennet, who will be turning 40 in the fall, is a yoga instructor who has been attempting to become pregnant via donor sperm and artificial insemination.  Liz, age 38, is a writer for a magazine called Mascara.  Both Liz and Jane live in NYC, but they fly out to their ancestral home when their father has a health scare.  The youngest three daughters have never left the nest.  Mary, age 30, is a misanthrope working on her third online master's degree.  Lydia and Kitty, both in their 20s, work service jobs on and off, but put most of their energy into their Crossfit workouts.


Readers of Jane Austen's original will know the broad strokes of the plotlines, but Curtis Sittenfeld changes things up enough to keep the narrative fresh.  There is, of course, a Fitzwilliam Darcy, in this case a neurosurgeon, who must overcome his pride while Liz Bennet makes a journey to get past her own prejudice.  


This book was a "staff pick" chosen for week two of the Albany Public Library summer-reading program.  Onto week three (non-fiction)!


Beachcombers - Nancy Thayer, Karen White



This was one of the recommended books for the "beach reads" week in my library's summer-reading program.  This is one of those books I probably wouldn't have chosen of my own volition, though I'm glad to have experienced it.  Its setting in Nantucket was nice, because I honeymooned there in addition to having other special vacations there.


The book is set in the summer of 2009; many characters are having financial problems because of the economy.  Fifteen years before, Danielle Fox drowned; whether the drowning was accidental or intentional,  no one knows for sure.  She left behind her husband Jim, a contractor, and three daughters--Abbie, who was 15 at the time; Emma, who was 13; and Lily, who was only seven.  As the oldest daughter, Abbie, stepped up as caretaker to her younger sisters.


As the book opens on its present-tense narrative, Abbie rushes home at Lily's urging, after having spent two years in London working as an au pair.  Lily's worried about Emma, whose fiance Duncan dumped her for another woman right around the time she lost her finance job in Boston.  Emma returned to the family home and took to her bed.  Lily's also worried about their father's business, as contracting jobs are becoming less plentiful.  He has rented out the guest cottage, aka "the playhouse," to Marina--whom she characterizes in an email to Abbie as a sexy woman who is after their father.  Six months earlier, Marina's husband Gerry and good friend Dara threw her a surprise party to celebrate her 40th birthday--only to reveal the next morning that they'd fallen in love and were expecting a baby.  Gerry wanted a divorce so he could marry Dara.  Gerry bought out Marina's half of their ad agency and their condo, in Kansas City, MO.  Marina has rented out the cottage for a six-month term, to give herself the chance for a new start.


So there are multiple romances in this book, and I'm not usually a romance kind of girl.  But there was enough other drama going on to make this generally a fun, frothy read for me.  Sometimes, I became irritated with certain characters.  Okay, mostly Lily.  At times, she acted more like a toddler than a 22-year-old, but this was somewhat explained by her sisters having babied her--and she does go through a trajectory.  There's some insta-love here, and I'm not generally a fan of that.  But fortunately, things weren't 100% wrapped up with a neat bow.  More like 85%.

Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware, Imogen Church



Maybe I've read too many books like this one.  Maybe I'm cranky because I stayed up way too late last night finishing this book (I started it too early to "count" for my library's summer-reading program, and didn't finish it soon enough to get started on another book for my summer reading when it officially began on 6/24!).  Keep in mind that this book did propel me forward to wanting to know what happened.  Also ** = "Fair" for me.


Laura "Lo" Blacklock, a British travel journalist, goes through a traumatic event when a burglar breaks into her apartment, steals her purse, and traps her in her own bedroom by disabling the doorknob (after slamming the door into her face).  Despite the trauma, which seems to have left her with PTSD, she accepts a plum assignment on a luxury cruise ship, the Aurora Borealis, which will take its press-junket passengers on a Norwegian cruise.  During her first evening, she knocks on the door of Cabin 10, and the young woman inside gives her a mascara, refusing Lo's offer to return it.  Later that night, Lo hears a suspicious splash from the veranda of that cabin and, running out to her own, notices a smear of blood on that neighboring veranda.  She immediately concludes that the young woman she interacted with has been murdered.  


The ship's head of security tells her that Cabin 10 is unoccupied, and sure enough, he is able to show her that it is quite empty and clean.  Although he takes her through the motions of speaking with various staff members to try to identify the young woman, he clearly doubts her credibility.  After all, she suffered a trauma in her own apartment, is on anti-anxiety meds, and admittedly consumed alcohol on the night in question.  When the security officer is clearly done with her, Lo pursues her own investigation, enlisting an ex-boyfriend who is on the cruise, Ben Howard, as well as the ship's owner, Lord Richard Bullmer.


So, I won't give away anything about the way the mystery unfolds.  Of course, there are elements of "things are not as they seem."  It felt as though it took a long, long time to get to the unraveling.  The day after the incident felt at least four days long.  Once the unraveling occurred, there was another stall-out for a while.  And I guess I would call the resolution semi-satisfying.  And exhausting.  But this is definitely a YMMV type of situation, and if you haven't read too many of these thrillers where a woman disappears, you might enjoy this more than I did.

Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight, Khristine Hvam



Kate Baron is in an important meeting with a law client when she receives a call from her daughter Amelia's private school, Grace Hall.  Amelia is being suspended from school, and Kate must pick her up immediately.  Any further information about the situation will not be given over the phone.


When Kate arrives at the school, something terrible has clearly happened.  Police are present, and Kate sees a pair of girls' boots near a sheet that covers something--or someone.  A police officer tells her there has been an "accident"; her daughter has fallen from the roof.  The death is quickly ruled a suicide, but Kate has doubts.  Receiving an anonymous text that "Amelia didn't jump" convinces her to ask police to take another look into her daughter's death.


Along with Kate's perspective, the story is told from Amelia's point of view and also through texts, email, journal entries, and Facebook status updates.  10th-grader Amelia has had certain secrets she's kept from her mother and from her best friend Sylvia, though she has also wanted to reveal them.  Amelia has been "tapped" to join a secret club that requires certain hazing-type activities and its leader knows just how to emotionally manipulate the students she "taps" to follow through on them.  The stakes grow, and amid them, Amelia receives troubling texts from a blocked number, dropping hints about the identify of her father, who has never been a part of her life.


Without giving anything away, I will say that I enjoyed the way the mysteries are unraveled and Amelia is "reconstructed" via her mother's process of pursuing the facts.  There are some interesting twists and turns, as expected in this genre, and well-rounded characters it's easy to care about.

Perils of Privilege

The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can't Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage - Phoebe Maltz Bovy



I received this book as a free ARC from NetGalley.  This will not prevent me from writing an honest review.


For several years now, it has been common for comments to online articles and blog posts to call out the author and/or subject to "check your privilege" or to be notified that "your privilege is showing."  In response, many writers include a list of privilege-acknowledging disclaimers to preempt such reactions.  The privilege framework plays out in higher education and politics as well.  Phoebe Maltz Bovy contends that the call-outs and self-policing are counter-productive.  Far from improving inequities, they help distract from addressing valid issues.  While writers and thinkers are busy acknowledging that there exist people with fewer advantages than they have, the most advantaged people are continuing to enjoy all of the benefits that come with that status.


As Bovy suggests, when something that should be a basic right for everyone is framed as a privilege that not everyone can have, it's not productive to call out people who have that "privilege," as if it's something no one should have.  Instead, the question would be how to ensure everyone's rights are defended.


Bovy is careful to point out that the book isn't a crank piece designed to ridicule people examining questions of privilege.  Instead she suggests there have been over reaches; take a step back without a return to earlier obliviousness.  


I think this book could serve as a useful tool for moving beyond what can be a stalemate, to start moving the conversations along when considering social inequities.

Everything You Want Me to Be: A Novel - Mindy Mejia

Received an email from the publisher about their special offer on the eBook, June 12-19, 2017.... Here is my review of the book....




Barnes & Noble



Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Audio) - Maria Semple Bernadette Fox is a brilliant architect and semi-recluse who employs a virtual assistant called Manjula to handle most of her routine affairs and minimize how much she needs to interact with her fellow humans in Seattle. Bernadette's husband, Elgin Branch, is a renowned programmer at Microsoft known for having the fourth most popular TED talk. Bernadette has managed to make herself unpopular with fellow Galer Street School moms, mainly because she avoids joining parent committees, thereby showing she doesn't value "community." Bernadette and Elgin's daughter Bee, an eighth grader with exemplary report cards, intends to hold her parents to a promise they'd made of an anything-she-wants graduation present if she maintained perfect report cards her whole way through. And what she wants is a family trip to Antarctica. Which causes Bernadette to quietly freak out.... Bernadette goes missing, and Bee is determined to find her. Various types of correspondence--emails, faxes, letters, invoices, and the like--interspersed with Bee's narration help piece together the story of what has happened. Can Bernadette be found? This book is delightful. That's the word that kept coming into my head. I just love smart, quirky characters. And Kathleen Wilhoite's narration was perfect. Wilhoite is an actress (you might remember her from Gilmore Girls) and singer (she nails "Holy Night" in one scene in the book), and I was surprised to learn this was her first time narrating an audiobook. It seems she befriended Maria Semple in a writing group. I hope she decides to narrate her own books and others, too.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Susan  Cain, Kathe Mazur Everyone should read this book. Including my mom! (More on that later.) As the book demonstrates, extroverts and introverts can and should learn to play to one another's strengths, to reach compromises that allow them to accommodate one another's preferences and social styles. In doing so, they can truly complement one another, yin-and-yang style. Introversion is not a flaw that needs to be fixed, yet many introverts living in western cultures such as the U.S. are treated as if it is. My mother is one of those extroverts who thought of my introversion as something she needed to fix. If only I would "make an effort," I would make more friends, which would be desirable because it would give me more people to "rely on." The author at one point describes an extrovert urging an introvert to just "make an effort." It was me and my mom all over again... The book makes the point that introverts do enjoy socializing, but in their own way and on their own terms. They tend to enjoy talking one-on-one or in small groups, delving into deeper topics rather than dwelling on small talk. Educators and business recruiters tend to favor the traits of extroversion; however, they would be wise to learn to work with introverts and nurture their unique strengths. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you will benefit if you read this book. Whichever you are, you will learn strategies to help you with people like and unlike yourself.