March in Review: Much more reading, many more books. That’s more like it.

I had faith March wouldn’t let me down, unlike my crappy January and February. Lie: I had no such faith, but told myself things could hardly go further south. And there were no Olympics, no television distracting me. The TV reverted to its usual function: background noise for napping and covering the surface of my TV stand, while looking impressively large.

Size matters, friends.

Of course, March brings out my Irish. It’s also my birth month, meaning I have an excuse to binge buy books. This year, March threw in a nasty virus, gratis, getting me three days off work in which I was too sick even to read.

Still, I managed to fit in a few.

I’d hoped to take a short vacation in March. SPOILER: that didn’t happen. I was too ill, no desire to leave the warmth of my home and comfort of my sofa. It’s still cold here in Chicago. Distressingly so. On this April 1, it’s the coldest it’s been in years, hovering around freezing.

Will spring ever come. I’m beginning to wonder.

Books Read March 2018:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (for library classics book group)

I’ve been putting off reading this one since the upset wrought by the first few minutes of the Kubrick film. Not a fan of random violence and rape, I wrote this off as not for me.

It’s about a young man literally addicted to violence, the leader of a pack which wreaks nightly havoc on an English town. The first part was difficult to read, partly for the made-up language Burgess creates (which wore on me) and constant, gratuitous violence. The second part is much more interesting, once main character Alex is finally arrested for his crimes, and re-programmed, for lack of a better term.

The best thing I can say about ACO is I finished it. Not a fan.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

The lovely Jesmyn Ward has written another moving story set in Mississippi, this one about a family ripped apart by the slow death of the matriarch from cancer. Told from shifting perspectives, including that of the ghost of a young black boy lynched decades ago, it’s a short and rich novel.

It deserves to be shortlisted.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

This one, good God. Absolute brilliance, beginning to end. It’s been a while since I’ve read a modern book I believe has the staying power to become a modern classic. Ruby is it and then some.

The story, the brilliant and sensuous language, the characterization and use of magical realism… It’s huge in scope, so difficult to summarize.

The title character is born a beautiful young girl, her life of poverty dooming her to prostitution starting from a very early age. Having escaped the South for a privileged life with a relative in New York City, upon the death of a woman she’d loved she makes the fatal mistake of returning home. Ruby loses her mind, becoming feral, as she’s again pulled back into sexual abuse and violence.

Love enters, and Ruby resists, unable to believe anyone could truly love such a damaged, broken woman.

I can’t recall the last time I finished a book and wanted to turn back around and re-read it immediately. If I weren’t engaged in other projects, I’d have done so.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

Schmidt’s book is a novelization of the story of possible murderess Lizzie Borden, she of the axe murders of her father and step-mother.  Generally, I don’t care for historical fiction, but this was an exception. What bothers me about it is the inability to know what’s true and what’s imagination. I’d far rather read non-fiction, getting to the truth of the matter.


The Notorious LB


I enjoyed Schmidt’s approach, telling the story from different perspectives. And while the case remains unsolved, she lets the reader know what she believes truly happened. It’s what I’ve always believed, as well, minus a few suspicions on the details.

Though an enjoyable read, I’d be surprised if this one makes the shortlist.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

Merchant shipman Jonah Hancock, one of his ships lost on a voyage, is handed a small, shrivelled “mermaid” as recompense. His only choice to help re-coup some of his losses is to display it as a curiosity, in PT Barnum fashion.

In the course of its travels, it lands in an upper class whorehouse, at which Mr Hancock meets the lovely courtesan and former mistress of a nobleman: Angelica Neal. Struck by her beauty, he’s lost.

Later, in order to win her love, she demands he bring her another mermaid, this one genuine. Believing it impossible, she believes she’s seen the last of him. When her fortunes change, however, Mr Hancock becomes much more desirable.

Ultimately, the creature Mr Hancock presents her with induces a terrible melancholy on everyone associated with it, begging the question what is the price to be paid when you get everything you think you want.

Not a candidate to win the Women’s Prize by any means, it’s an overly long book I nearly gave up at the 3/4 point. It meanders, interesting lesser characters never fully fleshed out. I finished it to find out what happens, and because I’d ordered it from Ireland and paid enough in shipping I didn’t want that to be for naught.


Books Bought March 2018:

In addition to a couple from the Books Read in March list (See What I Have Done and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock), there were these:

Happy by Nicola Barker (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (for review)

And these:

And, for my birthday:


Nothing new read for the Muriel Spark project, unfortunately, but I’ll resume that in April. I thought I owned a copy of The Bachelors – next up chronologically – but can’t find it anywhere. Hesitant to buy more books after my slutty indulgence this month, I may have to skip over it for the next, bite the bullet and order it, then read it out of sequence.

I hate doing that, but needs must. One last search of my library, then I’ll do what must be done.


Such was my March. I’m happy with what I managed to read, definitely happy with the stream of new books. April needs to be a less expensive month. I went a little crazy, and need to re-coup. Still searching for that elusive sugar daddy to support my habit. Ah, but rare as mermaids are they.

April will hopefully herald spring, lifting my mood. I’d be lying if I said the first quarter of the year hasn’t brought me down. Still too early to plant flowers in the Chicago area – we’ve had frost as distressingly late as May, in years past – a warm-up, at the least, would be more than welcome. At least the days are lengthening, so there’s that. Sorry not to be more perky. I just don’t have it in me at the moment.

Spring’s hope’s eternal.


February in Review: A whole lotta nothing going on.

Month of Kahlua and cream


That deafening sound is the huge, sucking vortex that was my February. Where the ever-loving hell did it even go? It went to the Olympics and my new obsession with curling, I suppose. Figures, it’s a Scottish sport. I can’t get by a week without something Scottish grabbing my ankle, interrupting me, disrupting my attention.

I hate to say it, but mostly I frittered the month away. I didn’t finish one, single book this month. Not even The Ballad of Peckham Rye. I was, and am, at most 20 pages from the end, but have I turned that last page?

Why no. No, I haven’t.

I’ve re-engaged with it, though, started over and I’m enjoying it more – probably because I’m paying actual attention. It’s funny, quirky Muriel Spark, no trace of the nastiness of Memento Mori. Did I mention I didn’t like that book?

Because I really didn’t like that book.

Peckham Rye features a Scot who may or may not be the devil. On his head are the stumps of horns. He jokingly – or is it joking? – tells people he is the dark one. Is he? Give me 20 pages and I’ll tell you.

Oh, Jaysus. More Scots.


Books I Was Reading, but Did Not Finish, in February:

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Other stuff I touched but didn’t get far enough to include in the count.


New Books

Here’s one!

Previously unpublished NF by Hurston


Barracoon is about one of the last surviving slaves to cross the Atlantic, written by one of the greatest southern writers of all time: Zora Neale Hurston. I’m full to bursting thinking about it.

There’s more, but pacing. Pacing, as in they’re all over the house, and I’m sitting comfortably. Or, not so much comfortably, but settled. I’m old; it takes effort getting off the floor. Do you mind if I tell you later?

Thanks! Appreciated.


February was pretty much the month of who cares. The black dog came sniffing at my door, bringing a thing that’s very much occupying my mind. A thing I cannot control, which is usually where depression gets you. If it were something I could control, I’d have done something about it. As it is, my hands are tied.

I know, I know. It’s not fair teasing. Uncharacteristically, I’m not forthcoming. That tells you it’s something that really matters, that’s precariously perched.

Something I hope will resolve in my favor – for the best, rather.


Whitby Abbey, England – July 2017


The reading thing, though. That really bothers me. Reading is my refuge, and when I can’t retreat to that I go a bit crazy. Instead, I filled my time with volunteering (a good thing), TV (not great, but forgivable for the Olympics) and hanging framed photo prints on my walls. The majority are from the UK, but a couple from Paris and Brussels, even Niagara Falls, made the cut. I culled my hard drive.

I really did diddly squat in February.


Edinburgh Castle: painting effect


How can I turn all this around in March? Well, the days are lengthening. That helps the mood. The fire is rekindling, that’s crucial. The Olympics are over… no more curling. And, I’m again losing myself in books, if only for short spaces.

March will be better. Not perfect, but better. Three steps forward, 2.5 steps back. That’s still progress.

For one thing, I have five days off at the end of March, my birthday through April Fool’s Day, and oh my god that just occurred to me HOW IRONIC. I’m going somewhere, I just don’t know where. When I go, you’ll know. I’ll photograph the living hell out of it.

I will finish some Muriel Spark, A Clockwork Orange, Ruby and Barracoon. I’ll read more about Muriel Spark in the bio by Stannard, and finish or make peace parting with the stragglers. I’ll start outlining an Ian Rankin novel, which I mentioned months ago, to study its innards. Then, I’ll start planning the next crop.

I’ll volunteer, I’ll write, I’ll engage in activities that don’t involve TV.

So long, February. I can’t say I’ll miss you.

Welcome, March. I have a feeling you’ll bring much better things.


Baileys Longlist 2016: waking up

baileysprize2016Enough nickle and diming the longlisters of 2016. At this rate I’ll never get through introducing them, much less narrowing down my list of must-find-and-read-no-matter -how-much-sleep-I-must-lose-in-the-process.

Because you can always sleep when you’re dead, am I right? Not while there are books you’re still alive to read.


“…there will be sleeping

enough in the grave….”

  • Ben Franklin

“I’ve visited his grave, and he’s not kidding. There’s really not much going on there.”

  • Lisa Guidarini


There are TEN debut novels on the Baileys Longlist this year. T-E-N. While I’ve been piddling my way through, barfing up blog posts at midnight just to get something out there about this list, as if I’m the first pioneer to crest this particular hill, it’s totally passed me by that this list is dominated by new writers.



borderbarbedwire longwayshinyplantdictionarymutualunderstandingbaileyswhispers



Well, if it’s going to be a prize for first novels, now that’s a different animal. I’m all about finding new writers. Pitting first novels against literary heavyweights, that’s what I question. I mean, perhaps throwing in a brand new writer or two is one thing, but ten?

That takes some serious balls.


Kate Atkinson. The phenomenon that is Hanya Yanagihara. Elizabeth Strout and Geraldine Brooks vs. 10 neophytes.

Now, on what by now must be the third or perhaps even fourth hand, read a bit about these ten and you’ll see how mind-blowingly good these books sound. As in, how on earth did the judges unearth so much new talent? A thousand book scouts on a thousand book hunts could scarcely have found such wealth.

But they have.

This has officially blown my reading mind. It’s shut me up, readers. Or, rather, stunned me into temporary confusion while I have time for the little gears in my brain to catch up.

I do not know what to make of this prize. It’s either the most brilliant list ever or it’s broken every rule and must be punished.

All I know is I’m riveted. Positively riveted.



This. Is. Big.


Baileys Longlist 2016: Cynthia Bond’s ‘Ruby’


I didn’t have time to read Cynthia Bond’s Ruby way back when the publisher sent me a copy, and you better believe I regret it now. I’m sure whatever I was doing at the time was important enough to warrant the diversion of my attention, but now I’m left barreling through piles and piles of review books, in the vain hope this particular one made it from my former marital home to my apartment.


Friends, it’s looking grim.




  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; 01-Apr-08 edition (February 10, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804188246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804188241


Comparisons to Toni Morrison’s prose only add to my sense of desperation. Not a tidy person at the best of times, right now my place looks like a book typhoon hit it.  I literally toss books over my shoulder as I power through the stacks like a mad sorting machine.  And I could perhaps just ask Hogarth for another copy, but now my pride’s at stake. I had it in my hand nd I set it aside.

Shame on me.



“Channeling the lyrical phantasmagoria of early Toni Morrison and the sexual and racial brutality of the 20th century east Texas, Cynthia Bond has created a moving and indelible portrait of a fallen woman… Bond traffics in extremely difficult subjects with a grace and bigheartedness that makes for an accomplished, enthralling read.”

—Thomas Chatterton Williams, San Francisco Chronicle


Being hand-picked by Oprah’s people as a book group title, let’s be honest here, casts a certain shadow on a book. That Ruby was chosen takes away a bit of its cachet. No fault of Cynthia Bond’s of course, and economically speaking a brilliant stroke of luck. However, Oprah’s New Age-y feel good image doesn’t mix so well with high literature. Some credence is lost. SEE: Franzen, Jonathan.

Do I believe Oprah actually reads the books she endorses? Well, maybe, but much as I struggle to find the time to read the bit I do, how on earth could she have so much free time at her disposal?

But then, publicity is publicity. Maybe the whole question’s moot.


quotesWhen I found out that Bond is 53 and hadn’t written a book before, I thought, Wow. This woman was born to write. There’s no other explanation for such a vivid, searing first-time novel that penetrates through the page to the reader’s heart. Writing is Bond’s calling. No question about it.

– Oprah Winfrey (or her people)


So, color me a bit dubious. On the one hand, it sounds stellar. On the other, I’ve written blurbs in the past, and I know exactly how it works. Hold onto your bonnet Lucille, and come perch on my knee. Let me tell you a little secret about the book world… sometimes we exaggerate, using superlatives that are over the top and unrelated to a book’s true merit.

Now, run along and play. Mummy’s busy.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Cynthia Bond’s book made the first cut. But will it make the shortlist, that’s the question. If I can find my freaking copy, maybe I’ll come back and opine on that very matter.  If I can’t, maybe I’ll read up on it some more and come back with an uninformed opinion.

Because you know me by now; not knowing much of anything about a topic hasn’t stopped me from pontificating on it yet. And I don’t see much reason to break that habit now.

Until then, here’s a video review, courtesy of my dear friend Andi at Estella’s Revenge: