Sunday, April 26, 2020


I have been reading like crazy in a wide range and sometimes a deep range. Here are three books I read in April, each of which took me away from it all in various ways. I apologize for the mashed up formatting. Sometimes Blogger has its limits.

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From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape, 1957, 268 pp
I don't know why I keep being surprised that each of these James Bond books gets better than the last. Most authors get better the more they write. It must be because the movies are so stupid, so lacking in what made the books great.

007 collides with SMERSH again (that is the Russian Intelligence branch) when they send a beautiful agent to seduce him and lead him to their assassin. In fact, the first half of the book takes place in the Soviet Union, setting up the lure, Tatiana Romanova, and the assassin, Red Grant, and the caper. All of that reminded me of Red Sparrow.

Even when Bond comes on the scene, he does not do much except meet and bed Tatiana in Turkey, and accompany her on the Orient Express as they travel to London. They pass through many Balkan cities, the very ones I have been reading about in Black Lamb, Grey Falcon.

Then in the last 20 pages the trap is sprung. Of course Bond survives to die another day. 

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Eastman Was Here, Alex Gilvarry, Viking, 2017, 356 pp
I grabbed this off my Nervous Breakdown Book Club backlog pile in a fit of COVID19 angst. The cover was intriguing and it had blurbs from Tea Obreht and Gary Shteyngart.
I found plenty to enjoy. Alan Eastman is a cleverly created unreliable narrator, the kind of self-involved male who later showed up in Shteyngart's Lake Success, except that Eastman's story takes place in 1973.
He is a washed up writer with a disintegrating marriage. I had no idea while reading it that the character is loosely based on Norman Mailer. In hindsight, I see it. Self-centered, creates his reputation out of provocative statements and unique takes on contemporary issues, all the while tolerated with amusement by his male contemporaries and even a few women.
I have read quite a bit of Mailer and, aside from his views on women, have usually found him quite intelligent about American absurdities. In contrast, I felt sorry for Alan Eastman despite his infidelity (he maintains a mistress while going ballistic over his wife being unfaithful to him.)
When he goes off to Vietnam with an assignment to cover Saigon as the Americans pull out, he gets his comeuppance from a younger female reporter. I enjoyed that part the most!
Actually I enjoyed Gilvarry's dissection of the late 20th century older male who totally missed the point of mostly everything. The ending where Eastman and his wife try to work out their differences in front of their two young sons just made me sad.

Lullaby For Sinners, Kate Braverman, Harper & Row, 1980, 88 pp
I finished another volume of poetry. Last year I read Palm Latitudes, one of Braverman's novels, after learning that she had been Janet Fitch's writing teacher. I was impressed, so I decided to try her poetry.
Lullaby For Sinners is her second collection. It is stark with dark emotions, both beautiful and horrific images, and though I am no expert on poetry, it seemed to lie on the experimental side of the poetry spectrum.
I felt she was writing about the deep secrets of female emotional and mental trauma. Her poems reminded me of Sylvia Plath and Francesca Lia Block. Probably not for everyone but I liked it.
How has your reading been going? Today is Day 52 for me of staying home and I feel blessed to have everything I need (except a haircut) and so much time to bury into books. For others who have to work in dangerous venues or be stuck inside with small children day after day, I can understand how they must wish this would be over soon. 

Monday, April 20, 2020


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The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese, 1993, 528 pp

Do you have a nemesis? Or have you had one at some point in your life? I currently have a nemesis who also clearly feels that I have been her nemesis. 

The Robber Bride is built around a nemesis named Zenia. She is a complex character who fits both definitions of the word: 1) "one that inflicts retribution or vengeance" and 2) "a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent"

Zenia's special power is stealing men from the women who love them. She is a con woman who outdoes Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr Ripley. Her victims in The Robber Bride are three women, all quite different from each other, who met in college and have bonded through the years over Zenia's predatory actions. 

The novel begins a bit slowly as Atwood builds the back story and character of each woman, then takes off and never lets go as the three victims engage Zenia in battle. 

The author is as brilliant as she always is because, 1) she knows her classics so well (the novel is loosely inspired by the Grimm's fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom), 2) she is so facile at moral ambiguity (neither Zenia nor her three victims, nor the men she poaches are completely wonderful or horrible), and 3) she has a sense of humor that does not quit.

I first read The Robber Bride in 1998, an astonishing 22 years ago. I was not a blogger then but I had started a reading log in 1991. Looking back at that I saw that I found the novel good but had a problem with the ending. This time I read it for a reading group. I loved it unconditionally and understood why she ended it the way she did.

I would say that if you have a nemesis (def #2) or wish to become a nemesis (def #1), The Robber Bride could serve as a handbook. Recommended for all readers of any sexual orientation or age.

Saturday, April 11, 2020


Oh how I miss the reality of the image above. None of my reading groups met in March due to COVID19. This month a few of the groups have switched over to Zoom, so I have something to report. The Bookie Babes were the first to manage a Zoom meeting early in the month. It worked well. We will meet again this way later in the month and that will put us back on schedule. 

Bookie Babes:
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One Book At A Time:
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Tiny Book Club:
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How are your reading groups managing? How are you doing over all? Hoping this finds you well and coping decently with staying at home and wondering what comes next.

Saturday, April 04, 2020


I give you flowers. Funny how the natural world does not have any signs of a virus. My yard is acting like it was an ordinary March with trees leafing out, blooms and lots of green. Reading was affected by two long books and the distraction we all feel these days. I felt blessed though to be whisked away to other places, other times, other sorrows, joys, madness, and creativity.

Stats: 8 books read. 8 fiction. 5 by women. 2 historical. 4 for My Big Fat Reading Project.

Countries visited: USA, Great Britain, Uruguay, Vietnam.

Authors new to me: Robin Moore, Tara Conklin

Favorites: The System of the World, Cantoras, The End of Mr Y.
Least favorite: The Green Berets

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(I read Reflections In A Golden Eye from this collection.)

Have you read any of these? Did you manage to get books read in March? What were your favorites?