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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Not actually about the book.

The Walking Dead Volume 29 - Robert Kirkman


I'm looking forward to reading this book when it comes out in 2018.  But that's not really what I'm posting about.  I've just finished marking this as "Planning to read" here on Booklikes and separately marking it "Want to read" on Goodreads.  LIKE A SAVAGE. Because my Booklikes to Goodreads sync stopped working.  And yes, I tried to disconnect the sync and then reconnect.  I was able to accomplish the first part of that.  But now when I try to connect again, I find that clicking the "connect" button does nothing.  The page pretends it is "processing [my] request," but that is a lie, and the stupid green "connect" button continues to sit there and look at me.  Like it doesn't know what I'm talking about.


[Yes, I am frustrated.  I posted about this in the "Bug Report" group, but no response.  Now I have posted there a second time AND sent a "support" email.]

Holy [Bleep]!

The Walking Dead Volume 28 - Robert Kirkman



A giant herd of zombies is headed toward the band of survivors.  They need to act fast and implement a plan to draw them away and destroy them.  Will they succeed?


Something BIG happens in this volume.  I am not happy about it, but it's the kind of thing that can be expected in the world the characters live in.  I don't want to say more about this, because I'd need to write a spoiler to do so.  And I want to keep this review spoiler-free.


I am going to be interested in the way the events of this book affect what happens next.  There have been some major shifts in this volume.  At this point, I foresee that I'll stick with this series as long as it continues.  But is there a payout in sight?

Pretty Girls

Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter, Kathleen Early



I almost knocked this down to two stars because of some fairly graphic depictions of sadistic torture and the implausibility of certain nefarious goings-on that involved a wide-ranging conspiracy of well-connected people being involved in something very disturbing and complicit in covering that thing up.


However--I kept wanting to move forward to find out how the story resolved, and I cared about the main characters.  Proceed with caution, though, especially if the first part of my opening sentence sounds like something you feel you need to avoid.


More than 20 years before, a 19-year-old college student named Julia Carroll disappeared.  Her case was never solved, and local law enforcement seemed to be satisfied with the assumption that she left of her own accord, to quietly begin a life in some other part of the world, without notifying her parents, sisters, or friends.


Julia's disappearance shattered her family.  Her father Sam became entirely focused on solving the case, while her mother Helen moved between checking out altogether and deciding that moving on was the only way to fulfill the needs of their surviving daughters, Lydia and Claire.  Lydia drifted into drug addiction, while Claire became a people pleaser, focused on being popular but not standing out too much.  Lydia has been estranged from Helen and Claire since she made an accusation about Claire's then-boyfriend (later husband), Paul Scott.


As the book opens, Claire has just had removed the ankle monitor she has had to wear following an assault charge and plea bargain.  She and Paul, a ridiculously successful architect, are meeting in a bar to celebrate, but after he is uncharacteristically late, they are attacked in an alley, where he has exhibited unfamiliar behavior, and they experience an attack that leaves Paul dying as Claire watches helplessly.


Soon after the incident, Claire begins to discover clues that Paul had another side she'd been unaware of, and which aligns with Lydia's accusations years before.  As she begins to rethink everything she thought she knew, she contacts Lydia, who has a teenage daughter of her own, and has turned her life around since her drug-using days.  Neither is initially sure they can trust the other, but soon their sibling loyalty is reestablished. 


What might Julia's disappearance have to do with the recent disappearance of 16-year-old Anna Kilpatrick?  Are there clues to be found in the journals that Sam Carroll left behind?  What secrets about Paul will the sisters uncover?


As suggested above, this book had me hooked on finding out what happens.  Although I started with the audiobook, I ended up switching to the Kindle version to progress faster.  I will say there is a twist I didn't see coming, and then I almost smacked myself on the head, because I've read enough thrillers where that kind of twist occurs.  But I won't say anything further about that (working to keep this spoiler-free).

Why Not Mindy

Why Not Me? - B.J. Novak, Greg Daniels, Mindy Kaling



If you like the idea of Mindy Kaling accompanying you on walks, runs, errands, etc., keeping you entertained with funny stories, you'll enjoy this audiobook.  I particularly enjoyed learning about why she and BJ Novak are "soup snakes."


Some bits of the book felt a bit filler-ish, but even those portions entertained me.  Mindy could probably read the Yellow Pages or classified ads to me and make me laugh.


Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges - Amy Cuddy



I am sucker for books about becoming or cultivating our best selves, so I had no choice but to be sucked in by this one.  After cursing at my alarm clock today, I spent two minutes with my arms up in the air, thinking, "I am going to conquer this day!"  I'm not sure I would go so far as to claim conquership, but my interactions with other people were satisfying today.  Assuming power poses--and the related strategies Cuddy describes--are simple, but I think they have merit.


I will note that I prefer the arms-up-in -the-air posture represented on the book cover.  But if you prefer the "Wonder Woman" hands on hips, go for it!


11/22/63 (Audio) - Craig Wasson, Stephen King



The past is obdurate.


The past harmonizes with itself.


I saw the mini-series based on this book before reading/listening to the book, so I was spoiled on much of the major developments.  Still I enjoyed this book--probably not any less than I would have unspoiled.  (I can't know for sure since I can't go back in time and read the book before watching the show!)


In 2011, Jake Epping is a high-school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine.  He is living a fairly ordinary, orderly life until Al Templeton, proprietor of Al's Diner, introduces him to a seeming impossibility.  The pantry of the diner has a portal to one specific day in the past:  Tuesday, September 9, 1958.  Al has Jake experience this phenomenon for himself rather than try to convince him that it's true.  Al has been visiting the past regularly for years, for varying time spans.  His visits account for his alarmingly fast aging, since no matter how long the stay in the past, only two minutes will have passed in the "present" time frame upon returning.  Changes made in that past affect the future (or present, depending on one's perspective); however all those changes are erased if that portal to the past is used again.  Al explains this as a "reset."


The extended visits to the past have taken their toll on Al's health.  He is dying of lung cancer and urges Jake to take up a mission Al had attempted and failed to complete:  go back to 1958 and stay in the past long enough to prevent John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963.  Jake, divorced and childless, doesn't feel particularly tethered to 2011.  But can he really prevent the assassination?  If he fails, he's five years older with nothing to show for it.


The two lines at the beginning of this review are lines our narrator repeats often during his mission to change the past.  It does not want to be changed.  Can you blame it?


While I was listening to and reading this book (I also got the hard cover from the library), I also watched to first two seasons of Twelve Monkeys.  I seem to be overdosing on time travel lately.  I guess I love this stuff.  If you do, too?  Read this book!

Talk Like TED

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds - Carmine Gallo



I don't do all that much public speaking, but I work in continuing medical education, so making better presentations and determining how people best learn are recurrent issues.  And Gallo is not kidding that medical presentations are often quite boring!  I think this book has useful tips for people who want to improve their ability to plan and deliver effective, memorable talks.  While listening/reading I did make a point of seeking out some of the TED Talks that Gallo discusses.


My favorite parts of the book had to do with techniques that optimize learning/memory.  Like how learning something new and exciting causes the brain to release dopamine, which, in turn, promotes memory.  Same type of process for hearing something highly emotional.  I was much less engaged when he focused on optimizing advertising, marketing, or business pitches.


Ironically, I felt Gallo's narration style was less than optimal.  He mentions that the optimal speaking rate for narrating an audiobook is considerably slower than what is optimal for conversation and, by extension, for a TED talk.  But his speaking rate was so... measured...  I... wish... he'd... found... something... in... between... the.. two... rates.

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)!