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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Searching for Sylvie Lee

Searching for Sylvie Lee - Jean Kwok, Caroline McLaughlin, Angela Lin, Samantha Quan

Sylvie Lee spent the first nine years of her life in the Netherlands, with Helena (a distant cousin of Sylvie's mother), Willem (Helena's husband), Lukas (Helena and Willem's son), and Sylvie's maternal grandmother. Sylvie's parents had migrated from China to Queens, New York and struggled to establish themselves. When Sylvie was brought back to New York, she had a two-year-old sister Amy.

Sylvie travels back to the Netherlands upon learning that her grandmother is terminally ill. And while she is there, Sylvie disappears.

Amy, who has always lived in the shadow of her accomplished older sister, follows after Sylvie, determined to discover what has happened to her. She soon becomes enmeshed in confusing family entanglements and long-held secrets.

The book had its share of red herrings, and I did not predict the resolution that ultimately emerged.

I appreciated the complexity of the family relationships, including some tragic mutual misunderstandings.

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come - Jessica Hart

I identify as an introvert. I'm an introvert with an extroverted mother who seemed to think I had a flaw that needed to be fixed. Jessica Pan does NOT hold that view, and she makes this clear in the author's note at the opening of this book. I raise this for people who are offended that this book even exists. Listen, Pan is not betraying her people. She never stops being "one of us."

Jessica Pan, raised in Amarillo, Texas; the daughter of a Chinese father and a Jewish mother, graduate of Brown University (so she's lived in Providence, RI); lived in Beijing, Paris, Melbourne; married to an English man with whom she currently resides in London--faced the scenario of having no friends (other than her husband Sam) where she lived. Her close friends were scattered across various countries. She face the realization that she was lonely and depressed. Her goal in experimenting in a year of "extroverting" was to build a new friend group, with the kind of friends who would "help you hide the body."

In case you are shout-thinking that Pan just needs to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking , rest assured that she has, and she even cites it. She notes frequently that introverts value and crave "deep talk," and she triumphs whenever her new strategies allow her to achieve this kind of talk with new people.

During her year of "extroverting," Pan does scary things like talking to strangers, taking improv class, sharing a story on The Moth, taking stand-up classes that lead her to doing a stand-up routine a few times, going on a solo "surprise me" adventure trip (that mysteriously leads her to Budapest), and hosting a dinner party.

Spoiler alert: by the end, she still identifies as an introvert, though she believes she may have shifted from "shy introvert" to "gregarious introvert." Most of her new friends also identify as introverts. If you are an introvert who is offended that this book even exists, please just give it a chance. You don't even have to tell anyone.

Side note: One of the "Questions about this book" posted last year (2019) was whether there was a book from an extrovert choosing to live as an introvert for a year. Pan replied, positing that such a book would be called Sorry I'm Early, I Needed to Get Out. Ironically, now that we are in a global pandemic (for people reading this in the future, I am writing this in June of 2020)--we might well end up with plenty of memoirs in the genre of "Extrovert Forced to Live Like an Introvert During Quarantine."

Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert, James Fouhey, Rebecca Soler

Once upon a time, Althea Prosperine wrote a small collection of dark fairy tales, Tales From the Hinterland. The book has long been out of print, and it is very difficult to find any copies of it. Althea has a cult following, and her living as a recluse in a remote Upstate New York estate called the Hazel Wood only adds to her mystique for die-hard fans.

Alice Prosperine does not know her grandmother Althea. Alice and her mother Ella have always moved from place to place, always escaping "bad luck" that seemed to follow them everywhere. The nomadic existence ends only when Ella receives a letter informing her that Althea has died. This, according to Ella, means they are "free" and can stop moving. They settle in Brooklyn.

Then.... Something happens. The something involves the "bad luck." And Alice does something she never thought she'd do--teaming up with an Althea Prosperine fan and launching into an adventure she never wanted.

This book is the July selection for the "Forever YA" book club that I belong to, and I'm so glad it is. Because I would probably not have found my way to this book on my own, and I really enjoyed it. This book leaves me contemplating the power of stories and the meaning of world-building. I am definitely interested in the sequel.

[The audio version comes with a bonus novella called "The Boy Who Didn't Come Home," from the same universe. The Kindle version includes two stories from Tales From the Hinterland.]

Haywire Heart

The Haywire Heart: How Too Much Exercise Can Kill You, and What You Can Do to Protect Your Heart - John Mandrola MD, Chris Case, Lennard Zinn, Steve Menasche

I don't feel equipped to give this book a star rating. I listened to the audiobook based on a recommendation from an atrial fibrillation Facebook support group that I recently joined. My first identified atrial fibrillation occurred in October of 2016, and I'd been doing marathons and trail 50k's. My afib was detected during a routine physical and confirmed by a cardiologist later that same day. However, when I was about to be given a cardioversion four days later, my heart was back to a normal sinus rhythm. I had no afib at my 2017 physical, but had it again in 2018, and since then it's been more prevalent. My cardiologist does not seem to make much of the endurance-athlete angle. Maybe because since I've started having the afib, I have gained a substantial amount of weight, and I don't think he sees an athlete when he looks at me. Just another fat heart patient who should really lose weight.

In any event, the book includes case studies about endurance athletes' experiences with afib, and their experience of afib tends to be considerably different from mine. They notice fluttering sensations and palpitations in their chests. I do not. I never really know I am in afib, though I've been noticing lately increased fatigue and sometimes shortness of breath during even mild exertion. However, it is difficult for me to know whether that is due to the afib or due to the meds I am on.

Still, this book is worth a read (or listen) for endurance athletes facing arrhythmias.

Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones - James Clear
The author views his book as a companion to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business . Clear offers many practical steps one can take to build desired habits and cease undesired ones. He cites the web page atomichabits.com as a resource to access many helpful guides, checklists, and cheat sheets.

The use of the word "atomic" is meant to denote "small," as in engaging in many small habits/behaviors to create a large payoff. I kind of wish he'd called the book Nano Habits instead. When I see "atomic," I think "explosive"!

Real Lolita

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World - Sarah Weinman

I think this article in The New Yorker captures my reaction perfectly:

The Salacious Non-Mystery of “The Real Lolita”

In 1948, an 11-year-old girl named Sally Horner was abducted by Frank La Salle, a 50-year-old pedophile. He had caught her trying to steal a notebook on a dare from popular girls at her school in Camden, NJ. He convinced her that he was an FBI agent who would spare her from being sent to reform school if she periodically "checked in" with him. He coerced her into telling her mother he was the father of school friends of hers and was taking them on a trip to Atlantic City. The Atlantic City trip (without the imaginary school friends) morphed into a 21-month, multi-state captivity for Sally. Tragically, she died in an auto accident just a couple of years after being returned to her family. La Salle was convicted of rape and kidnapping and received a life sentence.

Weinman makes much of the Sally Horner case as being the inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, while acknowledging that he had begun work on the novel years before the Sally Horner kidnapping occurred. She emphasizes the notion that the case provided the ultimate framework for the novel. There is a passage in Lolita where Humbert Humbert narrates a reference to Sally Horner, asking himself whether he was doing to Lolita what Frank La Salle had done to Sally. (Why, yes, Humbert!) Weinman seems indignant that Nabokov resisted naming a single real-life source for his inspiration, and she floats the odd theory that he included Humbert Humbert's allusion to the Horner case to protect himself against claims of plagiarism. Plagiarism? For basing a novel on a real-life case? There are countless novels that have real-life inspirations, and no one has charged those authors with plagiarism of real life.

The article I linked above sums up perfectly in the final paragraph:

“What Humbert Humbert did to Dolores Haze is, in fact, what Frank La Salle did to Sally Horner in 1948,” Weinman writes. What is the purpose of this statement? The phrase “The Real Lolita” implies its opposite: a sham “Lolita,” a prop, a lie, a fiction. But this book presents no evidence that Nabokov exploited Sally Horner to breathe life into his imaginings. What it insinuates, powerfully, is that Weinman has exploited both Sally and Nabokov to justify her prurient interest in yet another sad, dead girl.


Girl Who Lived Twice

The Girl Who Lived Twice (Millennium #6) - David Lagercrantz, George Goulding, Simon Vance

Sixth installment in the Millennium series; third continuation by David Lagercrantz. I have a soft spot for Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander and do enjoy catching up with them, even when they don't 100% "feel" like their Larsson selves. Is it just me, or is there a pattern of "Blomkvist tries to find/reach Salander, who is hard to find and takes a while before she bothers to read/respond to his texts/emails/messages. And after a while, they finally meet up again, and their plots come together"?

There are conspiracies and cover-ups. There is a confrontation with Lisbeth's evil twin Camilla. The details almost don't matter, because in my head, what I ultimately care about is the Blomkvist-Lisbeth interaction.

The plot lines kept me interested, the narrative moved quickly, and the ending was fairly satisfying, but I wanted something more.

She Said

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement - Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Rebecca Lowman
Having read Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators , much of the ground Kantor and Twohey cover was familiar to me. As the authors describe, victims of Harvey Weinstein willing to speak about his sexual harassment and abuse were difficult to find, as many had signed settlement agreements that required their silence.

Once Weinstein and his legal team become aware that The New York Times plans to run a story on the women who reportedly experienced harassment by the Miramax producer, they attempt to stonewall and delay.

The book also covers Christine Blasey-Ford's path to testifying in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. While I had been aware that she was a reluctant witness, I had not known just how much of an emotional toll the experience was to take on her. At the outset, she had been dead-set against traveling to Washington, DC for the hearings, let alone testifying in public.

The epilogue features of gathering of the authors and various women who had come forward to speak out against harassment and abuse, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Christine Blasey-Ford, and others. It ends on an uplifting note. Recommended.



Shine - Lauren Myracle

While Patrick lies in a hospital bed, comatose and fighting for his life after being beaten and left for dead in an apparent anti-gay hate crime at the gas station/mini-mart where he works, his friend Cat launches her own investigation. The local police seem ready to assume that outsiders passing through town were responsible for the crime.

Until three years before, when they were both 13, Cat and Patrick were the best of friends. She pulled away from her friends after suffering a trauma she hasn't been able to talk about to anyone. She became a "ghost girl," and now, in the course of her investigation, she needs to bring herself back to the people she pulled away from.

The book pulled me along, as I needed to know what happened. I found the reveal much less surprising than Cat did. I agreed with the book's overall messaging, though sometimes I felt mildly condescended to. I write this while fully acknowledging that I am not the book's target audience (when my Forever YA book club discusses this book I will be celebrating my 53rd birthday).

There was a line near the end that was something like "it's right to be sad about sad things." So glad to have that explained to me!

Good Girl's Guide to Murder

A Good Girl's Guide To Murder - Holly Jackson, Amanda Thickpenny, Shezi Sardar, Gopal Divan, Bailey Carr, Patricia Santomasso, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Marisa Calin, Michael Crouch, Carol Monda, Kevin R. Free, Robert Fass
Seventeen-year-old Pippa Fitz-Amobi submits a proposal for her senior capstone project: the effect of social media on a murder investigation. Five years before, Andi Bell disappeared. Though her body was never found, her boyfriend, Salil "Sal" Singh soon became the only suspect (confession text + ostensible suicide). Because the case was local, the project acceptance comes with the stipulation that Pip will not contact the Bell or the Singh family. She agrees to the stipulation and immediately makes a bee-line to the Singh house, to interview Sal's younger brother Ravi.

Despite the way Pippa has framed her project, her real motive is to clear Sal's name. She has never believed he could have committed murder, and aspects of the case never made sense to her. Her ambitious goal is to discover what really happened.

I won't reveal much more about the plot, so as to avoid spoilers. Pippa is a fun though sometimes frustrating protagonist, as she violates some of the "DON'T BE STUPID" warnings we readers tend to try to shout-think at book characters in books like this. Putting themselves into dangerous situations without backup; not confiding in trusted adults or others who could possibly help when receiving threats to "back off." That kind of thing. However, on balance I was hooked and enjoyed the unraveling. The book had twists I did not anticipate. Audio includes a full cast (project included recorded interviews).

Funny, You Don't Look Autistic

Funny, You Don't Look Autistic - Michael McCreary

At the tender age of 22, comedian Michael McCreary wrote this memoir with the dual goals of helping neurotypical readers/listeners understand people on the spectrum and to help people on the spectrum navigate the NT world and feel less alone--and all with humor. McCreary shares his family/school/camp/job experiences, as well as his early attraction to performance and stand-up (the latter which he began to pursue in his teens). Along the way, he also pokes at certain stereotypes ("I'm very bad at math"; "I know nothing about computers, which is weird, because I thought we were supposed to be good at this computer stuff and … I think I’ll just phone a tech."


The book is a quick and enjoyable read/listen, and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of ASD, or at least one comedian's experiences with it.

Very Stable Genius

A Very Stable Genius - Hillary Huber, Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig
This book covered familiar-to-me ground, but it offered a variety of perspectives from people close to the events, resulting in a captivating yet horrifying narrative.

Age of Surveillance Capitalism

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power - Shoshana Zuboff, Nicol Zanzarella

This book is both alarming and exhausting. An important read (or listen), but be prepared for the endless repeating of certain terms the author coins: "Big Other"; Instrumentarianism. Written in an academic style (not that this is a bad thing, but unusual for mass-market books).

Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl - Stacey Lee, Emily Woo Zeller

Jo Kuan is a 17-year-old Chinese-American girl in 1890 Atlanta. Jo and Old Gin secretly live below the Bell family's home/printing press. The secret chambers were built by abolitionists, and the Bells do not know they exist. Jo begins the story as a milliner's assistant, but loses that job early in the book. Jo accepts a job as a lady's maid, tending to the spoiled Caroline Payne, who is around Jo's age and used to be a sometimes friend/sometimes frenemy. Meanwhile, Jo hears through the "listening tube" left by the abolitionists that the Bells' newspaper, The Focus, needs a way to regain lost circulation. She comes up with the idea of writing an "Agony Aunt" type column called "Dear Miss Sweetie."

"Miss Sweetie" quickly becomes popular and increases subscriptions to the paper. Jo begins to tackle increasingly controversial topics, challenging racism and sexism, and thereby possibly making herself the target of readers who object.

At the same time, Jo attempts to solve the mysteries of her own parentage. According to Old Gin, she was abandoned on his doorstep when she was a newborn.

This was an enjoyable read. Jo is a likable, principled protagonist, and the author sneaks in a history lesson. She writes in her author's note:

Were you surprised to learn that planters shipped Chinese people to the South to replace the field slaves during Reconstruction? I was. Plantation owners envisioned an improved system of coerced labor, as Chinese workers were lauded as "fine specimens, bright and intelligent" (New Orleans Times, June 3, 1870). They were dismayed, however, when the Chinese behaved no differently from formerly enslaved blacks. The new workers were unwilling to withstand the terrible conditions and ran away to the cities, and sometimes vanished from the South altogether,

Was I surprised? You bet I was. I had no idea!

Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker, Steve West

This is another book that everyone should read. It's that important. From memory formation to creativity, to mental, emotional, and physical health--adequate natural sleep is vital. Unfortunately, sleep is devalued by many, and chronic sleep deprivation is dangerously widespread.

Did you know that driving drowsy is even more dangerous than driving drunk? And if both conditions are present, the effects multiply one another.

Sleep deprivation prevents adults from performing to their potential at work; it prevents students from excelling in school. It can lead to symptoms that mimic psychosis, and in children, ADHD.

Medical residents forced to undersleep on a regular basis are liable to make serious medical errors and then get into accidents driving home. Patients in hospitals are subjected to conditions that make adequate sleep difficult at best, if not impossible--making them more susceptible to pain and slowing recovery. Newborns in NICU can be discharged an average of five days earlier if kept in dim lighting during the day and complete darkness at night.

Read this book. Get your friends, co-workers, bosses, friends, and kids to read it. If enough people read it, maybe a real societal shift can happen, where sleep is valued, prioritized, and protected.


[Completed 2/29/2020; forgot to adjust read dates and don't know how to go back and do that from here.]

Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King, Will Patton

What happens to Danny Torrance after The Shining?

According to Stephen King, in his author's note, this is a question he was often asked at book talks, and also one he wondered about from time to time himself, idly thinking about how old Danny would be at various times. So he wrote Doctor Sleep to find out.

After the traumatic events of The Shining, it's no wonder Danny continues to have nightmares. Although, as a child, Danny is sure he will never succumb to alcoholism as his father had, he falls into that trap nonetheless. One attraction is that alcohol damps down the shining.

While living in Florida, Dan Torrance finds his rock bottom and decides he needs a fresh start somewhere else. He ends up in New Hampshire, where he finds work and an AA sponsor.

Meanwhile, he begins to be contacted by someone with a shine even brighter than his own: Abra Stone. Abra is born in 2001, and as a baby, she sends precognitive dreams to her parents and great-grandmother, predicting the events of September 11.

Abra is in danger because of a nomadic, supernatural band of evil beings that call themselves The True Knot. They are virtually immortal and feed off of the essence, or "steam," of children who shine. She calls out to Dan, and soon they team up. Who better to understand what it's like to be a kid who can read minds? And two steam-heads (as The True Knot calls them) are stronger than one.

I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoyed The Shining, especially those who might have wondered how Danny ended up. The book follows him from age six to 44.