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Mirkat

Mirkat Always Reading

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

Currently reading

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Reveals About Who We Really Are
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Tim Andres Pabon

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....

 

Amazon

 

Barnes & Noble

 

iTunes

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

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.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

 

I haven't seen the show.  I want to and I will, but I don't have cable, so that will have to wait until it's out on DVD and available at my library.  I've heard that the setting has been changed from Australia to California. [No spoilers, please!  Though I guess I pretty much know from having just completed this book.]

 

So the book.  The focus is a group of "kindy mums" at Pirriwee Public, in a cushy, suburban beachside community in Australia. The multiple points of view belong to Madeline, Jane, and Celeste, although other perspectives are included through interview snippets.  Madeline's kindergartner is her youngest, Chloe.  Teenage Abigail is from her first husband, Nathan--who is now married to Bonnie, mother of Skye, who is in the same kindergarten class as Chloe.  Madeline and second husband Ed also have a son, seven-year-old Fred, also enrolled at Pirriwee.  Celeste is married to the wealthy and charming Perry.  They seem to have a picture-perfect life with their twin boys Josh and Max, in their sprawling beachside home.  Newcomer Jane is a young single mother with a son named Ziggy. 

 

The three women bond on the day of kindergarten orientation, after Jane rescues Madeline, who has twisted her ankle and taken a spill in the street leading up to the school.  But soon things become complicated for Jane when one of the boys in the class hurts a girl named Amabella, and Amabella points to Ziggy as the perpetrator. And because Jane believes him when he denies it, she doesn't force him to apologize.  And next thing anyone knows, parents are taking sides.

 

The book is structured to reveal bit by bit events leading up to an ill-fated trivia night at the school.  Someone dies during the event, but the reader does not find out who dies until the narrative gets there (Chapter 2 is "Six months Before the Trivia Night").  This isn't your typical mystery; in a way, the mystery is more about why it's a mystery....  I won't say more, beyond noting that "things are often not as they seem" is an important theme in the narrative.  I really enjoyed he narrative style and characterization.  I'll definitely seek out more Liane Moriarty books (this is my second, after The Husband's Secret).

Nordic Theory

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life - Anu Partanen, Abby Craden

The author, a journalist and a transplant from Finland to the United States, is in a unique position to explore distinctions between her adopted country and Nordic countries, including the one she left behind.  She focuses on education, health care, parental-leave policies, elder care, business, and taxation.  Taking on the widespread perception in the US that Nordic countries are "nanny states" that foster dependence through their social programs, she contends that knowing their government programs have their backs when it comes to health, education, and the social safety net actually does the opposite and encourages freedom.  In contrast, the US system tends to lead to different dependencies--such as children's prolonged dependence on their parents (college tuition being so high) and employees on their employers (health insurance, etc.).  And when parents age, the dependencies flip, as adult children struggle to care for elderly parents.

 

The book is not one-sided, as the author acknowledges positive traits about the US and posits that the US and the Nordic countries can learn from one another.  However, there are ways, as she points out, that life in the US could be "so much better," and it's worthwhile to examine how the Nordic countries built the structures as they did.

SPOILER ALERT!

Vanishing Girls

Vanishing Girls - Lauren Oliver, Justice Folding, Saskia Maarleveld, Joel Richards, Elizabeth Evans, Dan Bittner, Tavia Gilbert

 

 

 

I guessed the twist (mostly) and wanted to be wrong.  I don't remember the exact moment that it hit me, but it was like, "Is Dara dead?  She's dead.  I don't want her to be dead.  If she's dead, I am NOT going be able to give this book a high rating.  There were certain tells, of course.  Why did the mother not seem to have any dealings with Dara?  When the police officer arrived with Nicole's hoodie to bust her for the party the night before, why did the mother not investigate whether Dara might have been the one?

 

I didn't guess the psychotic break--Nick assuming Dara's identity.  So I didn't quite know what to do with the Dara-narrated chapters.

 

I feel bad for having a negative response.  I normally enjoy the heck out of Lauren Oliver's books, and it feels as though it just wasn't the right moment for me to read this book.  Like other books prepared me to make the guess and spoil the story for myself.  The writing is otherwise lovely, and there were character interactions that I found compelling.  But the twist that I predicted and didn't want soured me on this one.  I don't want to give it a low rating OR a high one, so I am skipping the star ratings altogether.

(show spoiler)

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper - Kerri Maniscalco, Nicola Barber

 

 

I was in the YA section of my local library looking for something else entirely, when this Playaway audiobook caught my eye.  I read the description and was intrigued.  It wasn't until later that I discovered that this is the first installment of a planned trilogy.  Having learned that, I was worried that the mystery would be spread out over three books, but it is actually resolved in this one.  This book works as a stand-alone, though I guess the others will follow the main character on future adventures.

 

The protagonist, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, won me over with her refusal to settle for the rules that proper young Victorian ladies were expected to follow.  She is determined to pursue her interest in forensic science, even if it means sneaking to her uncle's classes and laboratory behind the back of her hyper-protective widower father.

 

Audrey Rose, her Uncle Jonathan, and Jonathan's student and apprentice Thomas Cresswell are determined to solve the case of the notorious Jack the Ripper, who has been murdering women in London's East End.

 

As noted above, the mystery does get resolved.  I confess I'm somewhat disappointed in the identity and motives of the killer, only because I have trouble believing the profile is plausible.  Still, I would be interested in reading more works by Kerri Maniscalco and to follow Audrey Rose's next installments.

Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry, Katherine Borowitz

 

 

Back in 2014, when I read and reviewed The Giver, I erroneously thought that book was the first in a trilogy, where the second book would pick up where the first left off.  I soon learned that there is a quartet of books, and that Gathering Blue, the second installment, while in the same "universe" as The Giver, has none of the same characters and takes place in a different community.  Jonas and Gabe from the first book apparently reappear in a later one (from some poking while trying to avoid spoilers, it appears this will happen in The Son, which is the fourth book).  After finding out all this, I wasn't sure whether I'd continue with the series.  But Gathering Blue came up in a search in my library's e-collection for available mystery audiobooks, so I decided to give it a try.  (Funny that I note in my review of the first book that it ended at mile six when I was doing a ten-mile run.  Gathering Blue ended at mile 10 if a 20-miler.)

 

I found that I liked this book better than the first, though I will say that I also found the community the characters live in implausible.  Why are people so callous about young children?  Somehow everyone is impatient with and cruel to "tykes."  One even casually comments that it would be no big deal if one of them died, because there are "too many of them."

 

Kira is a young girl with a talent for stitching elaborate needle-point type work.  Her father had died before Kira was born, reportedly "taken by beasts," and her mother recently died of illness.  Because of the illness, the cot that they shared is burnt, and a brutal neighboring woman declares that Kira should be put out in the field because she has a bad leg and the cot-space is needed to build a pen to keep in the tykes (!).  (The dead, dying and lame are put "in the field" to decompose, die, or be taken by beasts.)  Because of her talent, Kira is given a special task--she will be in charge of repairing and completing the Singer's Robe, and she is kept in comfortable quarters and given fine meals.  She soon meets other talented children in the same compound--Thomas the carver and Jo the singer (Jo is barely out of toddlerhood and therefore only has a one-syllable name; syllables come with age). 

 

So of course things are not as they seem, and one of the questions is how special, talented children come to be orphans given special jobs related to their gifts.  What stories about their past are not quite true?  What changes might they be able to effect for the future?

 

Again, the implausibilities take me out of the story somewhat--but I will probably seek out the audiobooks of the other two books, The Messenger and The Son.

Sandra Brown is Not a Runner

Mean Streak - Sandra Brown, Jonathan Davis

This post is inspired by a comment someone made in a review of Mean Streak on Goodreads.  The reviewer noted that Sandra Brown is obviously not a runner, because she had her female protagonist doing a 20-mile training run when she was only nine days out from a marathon.  I hadn't thought about this while reading, but it's true.  The character should have been tapering!  She would most likely have done her last 20-miler when the race was three weeks away.  The usual strategy is to drop training volume the last couple-few weeks before race day to ensure fresh legs.  Also, the character decided it was a good idea to do this 20-miler on remote trails in the mountains of North Carolina without a running buddy.  And she is supposed to be smart.

 

Near the end of the book, the character crosses the finish line of a marathon, and she is cheered, since she is the organizer and chief fundraiser of the charity race in question.  But the author leaves out details any runner would want to know:  What was her time?  Was it a PR (personal record)?  If so, by how much?  Was it a BQ (Boston qualifying)?  The important things!

Mean Streak

Mean Streak - Sandra Brown, Jonathan Davis

 

 

Plot-driven story with some clunky writing and characters behaving in ways that actual humans probably would not. Two stars instead of one because the plot did hold my interest so that I wanted to find out how the story resolved itself. There were some twists I did not see coming.

 

I am not a "romance" kind of reader, and when I realized there's a romance angle in the plot, I braced myself. I find most sex scenes in novels to be cringe-worthy, laughable, or both. I did find myself cringe-laughing at some of the sex in this book. I am not making up this phrase: "The arrogant jut of his penis." A penis can have an arrogant jut? Also, the author does something I detest: referring to characters' genitalia as "his sex" or "her sex."

Lost Landscape

The Lost Landscape: A Writer's Coming of Age - Joyce Carol Oates, Cassandra Campbell

 

 

Although I have read quite a few of Joyce Carol Oates's works, since she is so prolific, I think I've just barely scraped the surface.  One of the things I admire about her is her eclecticism.  She doesn't confine herself to any one genre nor fall back on any sort of a formula.

 

Probably the first book of hers that I read was Them.  I recall it was on my parents' bookshelf.  My dad was in her graduating class at Syracuse University, and he used to tell me with some pride that he and she were both on the school paper, The Daily Orange.  While I was a PhD student in the 1990s, she gave a talk at my university, and I was lucky to be chosen to attend the post-talk dinner.  She couldn't have been a more gracious dinner companion.  And no, she didn't remember my dad, but I didn't necessarily expect her to!

 

I enjoyed this memoir, and it made me realize how little I knew about Oates's personal life.  One of the things I enjoyed was the afterword, in which she makes a distinction between "memoir" and "autobiography" and explains which elements and details she had changed in order to protect the privacy of some of the people she wrote about.  She also described some of the people and events she did not include and explained why she made that choice.  Ever the teacher, she teaches her readers about the text they have just read.

 

The narrator of the audiobook has a very pleasant voice, though it often struck me how unlike the author's voice it is.  Like the word "demure."  I recall at the talk she gave at my university, Oates sharing with incredulity that people are always expecting her to be demure.  And her pronunciation of the word, in her Western New York accent, sounds quite different from the narrator's rendition.  Still a good reading, though.

Leaving Time

Leaving Time: A Novel - Jodi Picoult, Abigail Revasch, Rebecca Lowman, Mark Deakins, Kathe Mazur

 

 

I have fallen in love with this book.  To think, on a few different occasions when deciding which audiobook to download from my library's site, I read the description of this book and passed on it.  But this time I decided to give it a try, and I was quickly hooked.

 

Jenna Metcalf wants to find out what happened to her mother Alice 10 years before, when Jenna was three.  At the time, Alice and her husband Thomas operated an elephant sanctuary in Boone, New Hampshire, along with sanctuary employees Nevvie Ruehl, Nevvie's daughter Grace Cartwright, and Grace's husband Gabriel Cartwright.  Police had been called in to the sanctuary, where they found Nevvie dead and Alice unconscious within one of the elephant enclosures.  Alice, having been brought to the hospital while unconscious, checked herself out early the next morning, before police were able to question her, and was not seen since.  Thomas Metcalf, since shortly after the accident, has been in a mental-health facility, inhabiting his own separate reality.

 

To help her discover what happened to Alice, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies:  Serenity Jones, formerly a celebrity psychic, whose reputation was destroyed when she made a botched prediction in a high-profile missing-child case, and Virgil Stanhope, who had been the police officer who took an unconscious Alice to the hospital, but who apparently left the force shortly afterward and became a private investigator.

 

There are four first-person narrators in this book:  Alice, Jenna, Serenity, and Virgil.  The audiobook has four separate narrators--one for each POV character--and this works extremely well.  Alice's chapters share her research into elephant mourning, meeting Thomas while working on a preserve in Africa, falling in love with him when she realizes he is as devoted to elephants as she is, coming out to New Hampshire to join the sanctuary family, and the events that lead to the fateful night of the accident. 

 

This book has a twist I did not see coming.  One of those twists that knocks the wind out of you.  I don't want to say anything else about it, lest  I spoil anything. There is a supernatural element (as you might have guessed from the presence of a psychic), but this component was executed in a non-woo, non-annoying way.

 

As a side note--I already loved elephants, but this book made me love them even more.  At the very end is an author's note providing more information on the non-fiction sources used to inform Alice's informative sections, as well as resources readers can use to support elephant sanctuaries and anti-poaching initiatives.

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris, Georgia Maguire

 

 

The title, blurb, and first chapter of this book plainly lay out the situation its protagonist, Grace Angel, is in.  As far as the guests of Jack and Grace Angel's dinner party can tell, they are witnessing the perfect couple entertaining in the perfect house, serving perfect food and sharing stories about their perfect relationship.  Jack, an attorney with movie-star good looks, specializes in representing women suffering from domestic abuse.  He even shares he is eager for the day Millie, Grace's younger sister who has Down Syndrome*, turns 18, leaves her school, and moves into the house with Jack and Grace.  Grace seems dedicated to being the ultimate housewife and hostess, cooking flawless gourmet meals, painting, and gardening.  But from Grace's narration, it is clear that the perfection is a facade and that something else is going on below the surface.

 

The first-person narrative alternates between "Present" and "Past" chapters.  The "Past" installments reach back 18 months to when Grace first met Jack, while the "Present" ones carry forward from the night of the dinner party.  It becomes clear that the perfect house is a gilded cage.  Grace, upon accepting Jack's marriage proposal 18 months before, agreed to leave her job as a buyer for Harrod's, and "now" she is either in the house or, if she is out and about, she is constantly accompanied by her ever-attentive husband.  She doesn't have a cell phone or her own email account, and anyone calling for her on the house phone is usually told that she is unavailable.  Invitations for lunches either end up with sudden excuses not to show ("migraine") or Jack crashes the lunch.

 

My feelings about this book were all over the place; at times I felt I would give it a very low rating, while at others my opinion swung the other way.  The narrative propelled me forward so I "needed" to see how things unfolded.  Certain elements of characterization strained credulity for me (i.e. cardboard character-type character).  There were moments where I cringed at some over-explaining ("'I'm sorry,' I apologized.").  If this were a movie, it would be an old-school "woman in jeopardy" Lifetime movie (and I see that others have drawn that comparison in reviews).  Or if it were made into a feature film in the 1990s, Julia Roberts would have played Grace.

 

One of the things I found interesting was that there were elements in the opening chapter that did not make full sense until later in the narrative, so I found myself going back and rereading the opening after I was done.  I also read the closing chapter twice.  The fact that I wanted to do that increased my estimation of the novel somewhat.

 

As others have pointed out, this book is not another Gone Girl or Girl on the Train.  It is much too cards-on-the table for that type of comparison.  It is compulsively readable/listenable. (Although I primarily listened to the audiobook, I also checked out the print book to review parts I'd listened to, and I ended up reading the last 10% or so in print.)

 

*The book keeps referring to this as "Down's Syndrome."

Added this book... As [nearly] always

Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris, Georgia Maguire

::grumble::

 

I'm about to sound peevish.  I am listening to this audiobook.  I downloaded it from my library's electronic collection, as an mp3 audiobook.  When I entered the ISBN number into Booklikes, the edition didn't exist here yet.  So I added the edition.  I like to shelf the actual edition that I am listening to or reading.  I access this particular format very often.  And it seems as though at least 95% of the time, this means I need to add the edition myself.  I am just a bit weary of it.  It would be so nice if I could just enter the ISBN, and it would be the other way around--and needing to add the edition myself would be the small exception.