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Mirkat Always Reading

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

Currently reading

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

Dratch Walks into a Bar

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



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


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


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

Eligible (and Prejudice)

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



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


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


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


Beachcombers - Nancy Thayer, Karen White



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


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


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


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

Woman in Cabin 10

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



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


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


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


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

Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight, Khristine Hvam



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


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


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


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

Perils of Privilege

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



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


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


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


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


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

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

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




Barnes & Noble



Where'd You Go, Bernadette

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


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

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.


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."