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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Currently reading

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be
Rachel Hollis
The Extinction Agenda (The Extinction Agenda #1)
Michael Laurence
Something Like Gravity
Amber Smith

Spark of Light

A Spark of Light - Jodi Picoult, Bahni Turpin

So, I liked this one--only not as much as I usually like/love Jodi Picoult's books.  This is in part due to the narrative structure and in part due to what felt like a barrage of twists at/near the end--including one that felt like a cheat.  Without giving away details, it has to do with a character being known by multiple names.


Regarding the narrative structure--I generally enjoy non-linear story-telling.  Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 are my jam. I've enjoyed the reverse chronology of Pulp Fiction, Memento, and the "backwards" episode of Seinfeld.  But the reverse-chronological structure of A Spark of Light made me feel frustrated from the moment the story began to move backward.  Why?  Cliffhanger.


The story opens upon a women's clinic in Mississippi, where an armed gunman has created an active shooter/hostage situation that has lasted several hours.  The readers are introduced to a cast of characters, quickly learning the state various characters are in (no details, to remain spoiler-free).  The action reaches a crescendo, and it's not clear what the result of the action is.  Annnnnnd.  Readers do not get to find out what the outcome is until the epilogue.  Because the narrative goes back an hour.  Here's what was happening with all these characters an hour ago.  And an hour before that.  As a result of this structure, there is a certain amount of repetitiveness--like, "I already know this"; "I already know what this leads to."


Despite all that, though, I was drawn in.  The characters are complicated and their stories are not necessarily what they seem to be at first glance.  I somewhat understand Picoult's choice to use the reverse chronology, and reveal details backwards.


Picoult through the characters' stories explores the emotional, legal, and medical aspects of abortion, with depth and sensitivity.


Readers who are already inclined to enjoy Picoult's writing have a good chance of enjoying this novel.  Perhaps if you go into it knowing about the early cliffhanger that isn't resolved until the epilogue, you'll relax more than I could and enjoy it more.

This Will Only Hurt a Little

This Will Only Hurt a Little - Busy Phillipps



[In my head, this is spoken in the voice of Busy Philipps doing her impression of her mother.  Imagine a suburbs-of-Chicago "mom" voice.]


Before listening to this audiobook, I didn't know much about Busy Philipps beyond enjoying her performances in Freaks and Geeks, Cougar Town, and (too briefly!) The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.


This memoir is honest, touching, and often hilarious.  Its author seems to be having a moment.  It's well deserved, and I hope it goes on as long as Philpps wants it to.

Please Pardon Flurry of "Read and Rated"

I discovered that many of the reviews on my shelf somehow had a star rating (if you go to the actual review) without the star rating showing up on my shelf.  I was going through and adding the star ratings in the "shelf" view--and didn't realize that every single time I did that, Booklikes treated that as is I were reading and rating the book for the first time.  ::sigh::

Killing Commendatore

Killing Commendatore - Haruki Murakami, Kirby Heyborne

Another review that Booklikes did not count as a review.

Nine Perfect Strangers (Already Reviewed)

Nine Perfect Strangers - Liane Moriarty, Caroline Lee

Review is here.  Also, bite me, Booklikes.

I already posted a review of this.

The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results - Qarie Marshall, Bob Nease



But for some reason, Booklikes weirdly kept the book in my "currently reading," and pretended as if I had not rated and reviewed this book.


Which, by the way, the author is BOB NEASE.  Not "LON NEASE," as Booklikes auto-corrected me to when I added this book.  (Because of course I had to add it.  I almost always have to add EVERYTHING.  I'm about to add something else.)

Power of Fifty Bits

The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results - Qarie Marshall, Bob Nease

The first line of this book's blurb encapsulates Bob Nease's premise fairly well: 


Of the ten million bits of information our brains process each second, only fifty bits are devoted to conscious thought. Because our brains are wired to be inattentive, we often choose without thinking, acting against our own interests—what we truly want. 


What follows is a discussion of strategies to overcome the "inattention and inertia" that human brains tend to default to, in order to make the decisions that better align with people's good intentions.  Examples include refilling prescriptions on time, following a fitness regime, and investing money for retirement.


Readers who are already familiar with Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge will not find much that is new here.  What Nease calls "inattention and inertia" fits into Kahneman's "System One," or "fast thinking," and what Nease repeatedly refers to as "Fifty-Bit Design" (ick!) aligns with Thaler and Sunstein's more elegant "choice architecture."


Nonetheless, I think this is a good read for anyone interested in behavioral economics, especially when it comes to developing strategies for applying its concepts to simple things like word selection when presenting options to people.

Stranger Things

Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down: The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion - Gina McIntyre, Matt Duffer

Recommended for die-hard fans of the Netflix show Stranger Things.  Like DVD extras in [audio] book form.

Perfect Wife

The Perfect Wife - J.P. Delaney

You wake up from unsettling dreams to find that you are changed--not to a monstrous vermin, but to a very convincing robot, or "cobot" (companion robot).  Before being made to know this, you think you are recovering from an accident that you can't quite remember, and you are relieved to find that your husband Tim and son Danny are okay.  But upon learning about your robot status, you also learn that your memories of your life with Tim and Danny are from five years ago.


Why am I writing that this happens to "you"?  Because the chapters with the "robot" perspective are written that way.  And normally, I recoil from that device, but I was able to put that reaction aside for this book.  Ultimately, there is a definitive reason those chapters are written in that fashion (it's a late-in-the-narrative twist).


"You" learn that you are based on Abbie Cullen-Scott, who went missing mysteriously five years before.  "You" have a set of "Abbie" memories and traits cobbled together from social media, texts, and assorted other sources.  "Your" OS also allows "you" to learn and fill in gaps to "your" memory.


Tim Scott, Abbie's husband, is the founder of Scott Robotics.  He and Abbie met through her being hired as an "artist in residence" at Scott Robotics.  They fell in love, married, and had a son, Danny.  Their life seemed idyllic, but when Danny went through a developmental regression, he was ultimately diagnosed with a form of autism called "Childhood Disintegrative Disorder," or Heller's Syndrome.  


When Abbie disappeared, Tim was charged with murder.  However, no body was ever found, and Tim was acquitted.  Could Abbie still be alive?  If so, what happened to her?  Where could she be?


The Abbie-bot, with a full slate of memories, emotions, and empathy, cannot believe Tim would ever have hurt Abbie.  Can she figure out what happened and help him remove suspicion?  Can she help Danny, who seems to accept her fairly easily?


This book is highly addictive and threw me twists I didn't see coming even when I was certain I'd figured out the central mystery.  This is close to a five-star book for me, though I was troubled by some generalizations about autism.  Some of those could be chalked up to Abbie's learning process as a bot, but if that was intended, it was never made explicit.  There is also a twist that--once I thought about after completing the book, had me thinking, "Wait if that's the case, why did [character] want [thing I won't tell you because spoilers]?"  It's no deal-breaker, just one of those post-reading thoughts....


If you enjoy psychological thrillers, and even if you think you've read too many of them to enjoy most that come out lately, I believe you will find much to keep you engaged here.


Disclaimer:  I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher; however, this has not influenced my review nor prevented me from writing honestly.

Those Who Knew

Those who knew - Kirsten Potter, Idra Novey

I think the author chose an interesting topic to explore, but the execution didn't work for me.  The main character Lena once had a relationship with a charismatic young senator, but she ended the relationship after he physically assaulted her.  Lena did not report the incident.  Since then, the senator has had a pattern of forming romantic relationships with politically active young women. One of these women has died under suspicious circumstances, and Lena experiences guilt because she suspects that the senator, Victor, was responsible.  


According to the book's blurb, the novel's setting is "an unnamed island country ten years after the collapse of a U.S.-supported regime."  This "unnamed island country" angle grated on me, as the place was always "the island" in the narration.  "U.S.-supported" is not even overtly articulated (unless I missed something, which is quite possible, as I listened to the audio version, and admittedly, my attention waned here and there).  It seemed what the reader was meant to infer as the U.S. was vaguely "the north," and Americans were "northerners."  I'd have much preferred if the book were set in a real place or a named fictional one.  This "neither here nor there" of an "unnamed country" ground my gears.


Although I can enjoy books that are written in non-traditional/experimental ways, to me, this one felt as though the author was trying too hard to write that type of book. One of the devices I grew weary of was parts of the narrative being written in play format, as the senator's brother Freddy was a playwright, drawing his life experiences into cringe-worthy plays.  Freddy, like Lena, feels guilt because he also suspects Victor might be a murderer, among other offenses, but Freddy has not done anything about his suspicions.


There seems to have been a fair amount of hype attached to this book, and there are reviewers who loved it, but for me it was "meh."

My Life With Piper

My Life With Piper: From Big House to Small Screen - Larry Smith



I did not realize this is really an essay, and not a full-length book.  Part II of the audio is actually an interview with Larry Smith and Piper Kerman, about their experience related to Kerman's incarceration, her writing about it in her memoir Orange is the New Black, and reception of the Netflix-series adaptation.  The entire recording is not quite two hours.


It's a short listen, and interesting to get Larry Smith's perspective.  It was kind of funny to hear Kerman explain that she didn't narrate her own memoir because she didn't want to subject listeners to her "nasal New England accent."  Because I think her voice is pleasant, without any distracting features.  Larry Smith, in contrast, has an unusual delivery, with a near-lisp on his "S" pronunciations.

Commander in Cheat

Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump - Rick Reilly

I am not a golf person, so this is an unlikely book for me, but this article by the author, Rick Reilly, piqued my interest:  "Whatever Trump Is Playing, It Isn’t Golf."


Rick Reilly is a long-time golf writer for Sports Illustrated.  The subtitle of this book is "How Golf Explains Trump."  Reilly's premise is that everything you need to know about Donald Trump, you can learn from the way he plays golf and manages his golf courses:  the cheating, the lying, the rule-breaking, the double-dealing, and the contract breaking.  I never would have made those connections without this book (again--not a golf person), but everything Reilly lays out about the way Trump conducts himself in the golf world maps itself to the way he conducts himself in the White House (including actions that potentially benefit his golf courses, and thereby his personal wealth, since he never did divest himself from his companies).


An eye-opening lens through which to view Trump World.

Anonymous Girl

An Anonymous Girl - Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen, Barrie Kreinik, Julia Whelan



Another implausible thriller I nonetheless felt compelled to keep listening to, despite constantly thinking, "This is not the way actual humans would behave."  Two stars instead of one because of that compulsion to find out how everything resolves.  Disappointing, since I enjoyed The Wife Between Us, by the same authors.


Jessica Farris is a 28-year old freelance makeup artist living in NYC, struggling to make ends meet while helping her parents care for her younger sister, who at age seven suffered permanent disability from a traumatic brain injury.  During a make-up session with a couple of NYU undergraduate girls, Jess catches wind of a psychological study that pays $500/participant, just for completing a series of questionnaires.  Unable to resist the lure of that payout, she sneaks her way into the study, "on ethics and morality."


After Jess's three questionnaire sessions, the psychiatrist conducting the study finds something in Jess's responses compelling enough to suspend the study and create a side-study.  This side-study involves face-to-face meetings between Jess and the psychiatrist, Dr. Shields, and a series of assignments where Dr. Shields gives Jess instructions on what to say and what to do (under the auspices of testing ethics and morality in real-life situations).  Almost immediately, the book strains credulity, and the idea that Dr. Shields is a highly intelligent, intuitive medical and psychiatric professional goes the way of informed attributes.


For the rest of this review, I will put up spoiler tags, because there are a whole lot of specific elements I want to cover. 


The entire "study" with Jess comes about because in one of Jess's survey responses, she disclosed that she has one-night stands with men fairly frequently, and she noted that when she'd spotted evidence suggesting a man she'd slept with was not single, she pondered on whether participating in cheating made her a cheater, as well.  Dr. Shields is married to a handsome fellow psychiatrist, Thomas Cooper, but they have been separated ever since he admitted to having cheated on her.  In his confession, he claimed a woman had seduced him by flirting with him in a bar.  He further claimed that no man could have resisted.


The first set-up involves Jess going to a museum where Dr. Shields knows Thomas will be, so the wacky doc can see whether he succumbs to Jess's charms.  That experiment goes sideways, because a pedestrian accident out in front of the museum stops Thomas from going in (he is occupied with ensuring the woman is safely brought to the hospital).  Without having any idea who he is, Jess gives him her number and asks him to contact her when he knows if the woman is okay, as Jess was one of the people who stopped to help.


Inside, Jess gets into a conversation with a man wearing a leather bomber jacket.  When she reports back to Dr. Shields later, the doc mistakenly assumes the jacket wearer is Thomas, but when she slips and refers to him as "the man with the sandy hair," Jess notes that the man she spoke to in the museum had dark brown hair.  Dr. Shields realizes this was a different man, and sets up more experiments.  Meanwhile, Jess and the kind man from outside the museum hook up and have a one-night stand.


The second experiment has Jess inside a hotel bar flirting with a man who wears a wedding band, as Crazy Doc observes in the shadows.  The doc is relieved when she sees the two leave the bar together, because this leads her to conclude that Thomas was right, and that no man could resist being flirted with.  Then she is crushed moments later, when Jess texts her to let her know he has rejected her, telling her he's happily married.  Now Thomas is surely a lying liar who lies.  So....  This allegedly highly intelligent mental-health professional and medical doctor thought she needed this awkward "experiment" to demonstrate whether it's true that no man could have resisted?  Wouldn't she already reasonably know that in the given situation, there would be a whole lot of individual variation?  This is just stupid.


A later experiment calls for Jess to go up to Thomas (whom Dr. Shields has not identified as her husband) in the same place he's said to have been seduced.  Jess is supposed to pretend she thinks she left her phone in the booth where he currently sits, and ask him to call her number to check.  She's supposed to "realize" the phone was in her purse the whole time.  (This is meant to be a set-up where, having obtained her number, the doc can find out whether he will contact Jess for sexy times.)  This experiment goes awry because he and Jess immediately recognize one another, and she makes a quick excuse to leave.


Other ridiculous assignments involve having Jess pretend that women whose numbers Dr. Shields has harvested from her husband's phone have won free makeovers, so that Jess can ask them predetermined questions as Crazy Doc listens on an open cell-phone call, while muted.


Of course, Crazy's husband figures out something is weird, and he and Jess end up putting their heads together about the "experiment."  Thomas warns her that she is not safe.  A young woman who had also been a very special study experiment had become distraught and committed suicide.  (Later it comes out that the young woman had initially been a patient of Thomas's, and that she had actually been the one-night stand.)


Doc Crazy eventually figures out that there is some collusion going on between Jess and Thomas.  Thomas, for his part, has assured Jess he will devise a plan to get her out safely.  But Doc Crazy uses Evil Genius ploys to show Jess how little control she has of her life.  The doc gets Jess fired, sabotages a relationship she's established with a man named Noah, and sends Jess's family on a holiday trip to Florida (so Jess has no excuse to go home to spend Christmas with them).


In the big denouement, Jess has proof that Doc Crazy gave the young woman, April, the meds she used to overdose, after making her feel utterly despondent (thus protecting her husband from getting in trouble for an indiscretion with a patient).  So ultimately, Doc Crazy saves him once again by using her husband's Rx pad to write herself a prescription for her own lethal dose.


About that last.  Since 2016, New York State has had an eprescribing mandate.  Research, authors.  With narrow exceptions, all scripts must be done through eprescribing, so no walking into the pharmacy with a paper script for your lethal dose of opioids.


This one is a smaller deal, but Jess narrates that she is from a suburb of Philadelphia.  Cool, my parents live in a suburb of Philly.  Which one, Jess?  Later, readers learn that her family lives in Allentown, PA.  NOT a suburb of Philadelphia.  I can report this, having lived in Allentown for five years.  It's a small city, in its own right, and it is a little over an hour away from Philly.  If the authors wanted a suburb of Philly, there are so many to choose from.  Glenside, Wyncote, Cheltenham, Elkins Park, Upper Dublin, and on and on.  NOT Allentown.


Aside from all that--the book is divided into two narrative perspectives.  Jess's chapters are delivered in first-person, present tense.  Dr. Shields are in an irritating second-person, where she is addressing Jess as "you" in her handwritten notes.  Adding to the irritation, Dr. Shields uses an off-putting passive voice to describe all her own actions.  For example, she would never say, "I made restaurant reservations."  It would be, "restaurant reservations are made."  Imagine this over and over, with direct verbs never used.  After Dr. Shields kills herself, there is even a section in the epilogue where Jess imagines how Dr. Shields would describe a final encounter between Jess and Thomas, in the infernal notes.  And in the audio, the narrator who does Dr. Shields's sections narrates this flight of fancy, as well.

(show spoiler)


Immortal Life: A Soon To Be True Story

Immortal Life: A Soon To Be True Story - Stanley Bing

Immortal Life is set in a not-too-distant future, in which the line between government and giant tech companies has disappeared.  Smart phones have been replaced by cranial implants that connect to The Cloud with a tap behind the ear.  Artificial Intelligence has become ever advanced, 3D printing (both solid and liquid) paired with medical technology has allowed the wealthy old-aged, through replacement parts, to postpone death well into their 120s.


Arthur, the 120-something head of the world-dominating Corporation, is poised to defeat death.  His consciousness is to be transferred into a new body.  Before that transfer, this body has been known as Gene, a specimen developed from human DNA and imbued with a brain that has basic knowledge but isn't supposed to develop a real personality.  When Arthur's mind is uploaded to Gene's brain, Gene is still there somehow.  He wants to live, and there are members of a resistance who want to help him.


This book had an intriguing premise and a strong start, but I felt it lost steam in the last third or so, and I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I thought I would.  However, there were elements of the ending that I found unexpected, in a good way.

Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman



Some authors should not narrate their own books.  But Neil Gaiman is not one of those authors.  Neil Gaiman should narrate everything:  His books, my shopping lists, your GPS directions.  Listening to Gaiman's narration of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I just kept thinking "delightful," not just for the story itself (even though that fits), but also for the way Gaiman narrates.  After the story was over, I listened all the way through the acknowledgements, despite Gaiman's helpful comment that "You don't need to listen to this part; it's mostly names."  I would listen to him reading poorly translated instruction manuals.


The story is framed by the protagonist's return, at age 47, to his childhood neighborhood, for a funeral.  He visits a neighboring farm, and remembers fantastical things that happened when he was seven, and his neighbor Lettie, at age 11, went to great lengths to protect him from unbelievable adversaries.  I don't want to say more--just give it a listen!

Someday Someday Maybe

Someday, Someday, Maybe - Lauren Graham

Audiobook, narrated by the author, delightfully.


I first became aware that Lauren Graham had written a novel because she mentioned it in her memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can.  When the novel came up in the list of available mp3 audiobooks in my library's e-collection, I grabbed it.


Someday, Someday, Maybe is set in the mid-1990s.  Its narrator/protagonist is Franny Banks, an aspiring actress living in Brooklyn with two roommates, Jane and Dan, and getting ever-closer to a self-imposed deadline to either get that big break in acting or give up and move onto a more conventional life/career track.


A co-worker of mine likes to use the adjective "charming" to praise some of her favorite books, and as I was listening to this one, the word "charming" came to me.  Graham's voice--both in the audio and authorial senses--is entertaining:  funny, poignant, and bubbly.  A book like this written by an actress, about being/becoming an actress, can be self-indulgent and overly precious, but I felt that Graham avoided those pitfalls.  There were a couple of meta-narrative moments, but they worked for me.