Read Women 2014: June

It’s July already and that means with June’s post I’m halfway through Read Women 2014. The pickings are mighty slim this month. I spent a lot of time on a book I finally decided not to finish and after Blue Monday I began a lengthy nonfiction history that I’ll have to finish up for July’s post. I think it’s odd that many people seem to read more in the summer (all of those beach reads I guess) but with the nicer weather I find I read less as I spend more time outside riding my bike or swimming or going to festivals and baseball games.

Book #23: The Murder Farm- Andrea Maria Schenkel

The Murder Farm is based on a 1922 murder of an entire family plus their maid in the German countryside ala In Cold Blood. However, this murder was never solved. The Danner family wasn’t well liked in their community and Schenkel’s portrayal of them doesn’t lend much sympathy to the adult Danners (father, mother, and adult daughter). The murders of the granddaughter and maid evoke greater pity. Schenkel offers several viewpoints in the recounting of the murders including the maid’s sister, the adult daughter’s lover, and the granddaughter’s friend. The murderer is included in these narratives along with a few red herrings. It was a fast read and an interesting story although I felt a bit cheated by the ending and the revelation of the culprit. It felt like it was just plopped out on the page by the author as she tried to wrap up the story. She spent a lot of time with the varying viewpoints and motives and it finished with a “oh and by the way it’s this person.” Since the actual murder is still unsolved it is interesting to wonder whether she was correct. I’m not so sure…

Book #24: Blue Monday- Nicci French

Blue Monday is a thriller (first in a series) with more twists than a French braid. It opens with the abduction of a little girl and then fast forwards to about twenty years later when a similar abduction of a boy takes place. Therapist Frieda Klein and Chief Inspector Malcom Karlsson work together after Frieda begins to suspect one of her patients is involved in the latest abduction. Frieda has her own problems she’s dealing with but has to set those aside in her efforts to save the little boy. The glimpses of her personal life were probably my favorite part of the story, her flaws and uncertainties help make up for some of the vigorous stretching of belief you have to perform to swallow some bits of the plot. The final twist had me saying “Oh hell no!” both in a “Wow, I didn’t see that coming” and a “Yeah… no, that would never happen” way. I still enjoyed the book and its thrills and will have to read the next one soon.

Coming up next…

Right now I’m reading America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops by Christine Sismondo and have so far gotten to the temperance movement that spawned the disaster of Prohibition. Cheers!

The Bixy

The tiny blonde woman stamped her tiny, high heel shod foot and repeated, “Just take it! Why do I have to keep asking you?” She glared at him in exasperation, her outthrust arms holding a black leather briefcase handsomely trimmed in brass. “What is your problem?” Her voice was high-pitched, somewhere around the same range as a kitten’s mew and with an accent that George couldn’t quite place.

He stared at the figure. She was standing near the edge of his glass-topped desk. Just moments before she had walked out from behind his computer monitor and strode across the gleaming desk, her black, spike heeled pumps chattering across the dekstop, her black pantsuit reflecting in the mirror like surface. She stood about seven or eight inches tall, perhaps seeming a tad bit taller as a result of her towering heels. She was very slender and even a bit fragile looking with her pale skin and nearly platinum hair that was caught up in a chic bun. Her proportions were perfect or more than perfect, rather Barbie-like. Her suit was tailored and complemented by her choices in fashionably chunky jewelry. Her hands were tipped with shortish nails finished in a French style manicure. He could see this tiny detail (and on this miniature woman it was indeed a tiny detail) because those hands were holding the aforementioned briefcase out before her body, reaching toward him.

George had no idea what he was supposed to do. Not a single, solitary, lowly idea. His mind was frozen, he could not comprehend what was before his eyes. He continued staring, speechless. The diminutive woman seemed to finally understand his shock and she lowered the briefcase to the desk and looked at him with a softened gaze. “Not again,” she said. “What’s with you Yanks? You all act like you don’t know what a bixy is.”

“A bixy?” George finally managed to squeak. “What’s a bixy? Is that like a fairy?”

The tiny blonde woman, or bixy, George thought, shook her head and muttered not quite under her breath, “Bloody stupid Americans”.

“A fairy? Do I fucking look like Tinkerbell? A bixy is what I am, right? A pixy who specializes in business matters. Business + pixy, get it?” George nodded to the tiny creature. He didn’t get it at all but he didn’t want to rile her up further.

“What is your name? My name is George.”

“I know your name, George,” the bixy said. “I tend to know the names of those I’ll be working for.” She looked skyward and asked “Why me? First I get Paul Jenkins and now this dim bulb. Who up there hates me?”

George started at the mention of Paul Jenkins. Paul was the whole reason he was here to begin with. This fancy vice-president’s office had been Paul’s until his unfortunate breakdown. Jenkins had been discreetly carted off to a high priced institution only three weeks ago. His breakdown had birthed George’s big break, giving him the chance to move into the vice-president’s spot. George was a kind man and would never have wished ill on his predecessor, but, once he was out of the picture, George had to seize the opportunity given him.

He had barely finished unpacking his last box, arranged his pens and pencils (a bit old fashioned but George loved his #2 pencils), and adjusted his Execuvat 9000 Supreme office chair to his liking when the bixy had appeared on his desk, offering up the tiny briefcase to him and urging him to take it off her hands.

“My name is Cyberina,” she said. “My job is to help you succeed in your new job.”

George further refined his blank look as he stared rather stupidly at Cyberina. “How can you help me in my job?” he finally asked. The bixy looked at him with, not respect, but with perhaps a little less scorn than before.

“At least you’re talking to me, not running around the office screaming like that nitwit Jenkins,” she told him. George’s blank stare began to clear as he realized just what Cyberina was saying.

“You mean… you mean, umm, Paul’s breakdown was because of you?”

“Ha!” she said, the scorn back full force in her voice. “It weren’t because of me, but because he were too dense to believe his own eyes. What’s so hard about that? Look at you, you’re doing just fine. A bit slow, but no screaming ninny you are.” George blushed at this underwhelming praise.

“Where did you come from? How did you get here?” George asked, his shock receding and his natural curiosity coming forth.

“Remember when Mr. Paul Screaming Nitwit Jenkins went on that business trip to England about a month back?” Cyberina settled herself down on the edge of the desk, taking off her spike heeled pumps and rubbing her feet. “Fucking unholy things these heels are,” she said.

George nodded, he had wanted to go on the trip too but budgets cuts meant that he had to attend the sessions via video teleconference, an experience about as useful and satisfying as masturbating with a condom on.

“I had wanted to come to the States for a bit but the only visa I could get was an H1-B for temporary special worker with annex BP-CYBER. No problem for me, I’m a bixy, that’s what I do. But I had a problem convincing an American to sponsor me because they all refused to believe I existed. So, I sort of stowed away in Jenkins’ luggage, figuring I’d get it all sorted out when I got here. I mean, who wouldn’t want the help that I can offer? All I want in return is a chance to experience life in America. Land of drinks served with ice and 500 channels on tv. Stores that stay open for 24 hours a day.” Her face softened and took on a look of childlike anticipation. “I had 30 days from my arrival here to get my visa processed and that deadline is coming up fast. If I had picked a more mentally stable man’s suitcase I’d be coming up roses but here we are. And that’s where you come in,” she finished.

“Me?? What can I do?” George asked.

Cyberina closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. “I… need… a… sponsor,” she said. “You need help in your new job. You sponsor me, I work for you, you succeed in your career beyond your wildest dreams, I get to try out the American dream, everyone’s happy.”

“But how can you help me?” George’s shock had settled into a more pedestrian state of confusion.

“See this briefcase?”

“Of course,” he said. “What I don’t know is why you keep trying to give it to me.”

“This briefcase holds the secret to your success.” Cyberina’s voice was supremely patient. “It’s full of bixy dust.” George didn’t want to rile her up again but he had to ask.

“What is bixy dust? I don’t understand.”

“Bixy dust is what makes a bixy so special,” she said. “Bixy dust is what sets bixies apart from not only elves, sprites, and fucking fairies, but other pixies. You go to your big meeting, right? You have all these investors whose money you need, yeah? You’re sweating bullets because you know deep down inside you’re not really smart enough or talented enough or even schmoozy enough to get the job done,” she said, her voice lowering into a confidential tone. George felt slightly sick, how did she know thatwas exactly how he felt when he went into those big meetings? “What you do, you take a pinch of this here bixy dust between your fingers right before you go into your meeting, say ‘cyber, cyber, cyber’ and throw the pinch of dust over your left shoulder.”

“Like spilled salt?” George’s sense of humor began to emerge from the shock and confusion of the past several minutes.

“Nothing like salt!” Cyberina said. “This is serious business! If you don’t get this right I’ll be deported.” George was immediately contrite.

“I’m sorry, please go on,” he said.

Slightly mollified, the bixy continued. “Say ‘cyber, cyber, cyber’. Three times exactly. No more and no less. Then flick the bixy dust over the shoulder. Words first, dust second, in that order. When you walk into your meeting you’ll appear confident and competent and you will walk away with all the funding you asked for and then some. Your boss will think you’re a genius and will reward you with big bonuses.”

“Are you sure?” George asked. “How do you know for sure that’s what will happen?” Cyberina rolled her eyes.

“Because that’s my specialty!” she said. “Bixies concentrate on certain areas. Some bixies are focused on finance, others on trade or pharmaceuticals. Me? I specialize in anything cyber related. If you couldn’t guess from my name,” she said. “Look, George. You’ve got to trust me. What do you have to lose? Nothing, that’s what. All you have to do is sign my visa papers. Even if it doesn’t work (and it will), you’re no worse off than before.”

George thought about this. The whole thing was crazy. He wanted to pinch himself to see if he was dreaming but he had never understood why this was supposed to work. What did pinching have to do with dreaming? Suppose he was dreaming. Why wouldn’t he take a chance in a dream? What’s the worst that could happen?

“Let’s do it,” he told her.

“See? It’s already working,” Cyberina said. “That was an executive decision if I ever saw one.” George blushed again. Cyberina unzipped an outer compartment on the briefcase and pulled out a tiny sheaf of papers. “Sign these and we’ll officially be a team. Cyberina and George, George and Cyberina. Stick with me, kid, the world’ll be your oyster.” The bixy beamed up at him, her former disdain transformed into approval. “And to think, I nearly got stuck with that idiot, Jenkins,” she said. George wanted to defend his former coworker but he silently agreed with her, Jenkins was an idiot.

George signed Cyberina’s worker visa papers, no easy task on the tiny paper. The bixy took the papers and said she would file them with the appropriate authorities right away. She offered up the briefcase once again, and this time, he took it. He had a meeting to attend.


George paused before entering the conference room. He took the miniscule briefcase from his pocket, flipped the miniature latches, and carefully opened the lid. He grasped a tiny pinch of the bixy dust between his right thumb and forefinger and held it tightly while he closed the briefcase with the back of his hand and put it back in his pocket. Still clutching the magical powder, he glanced around to make sure he was alone, then softly chanted “Cyber, cyber, cyber,” the last cyber spoken with increasing confidence and vigor. He tossed the pinch over his shoulder and immediately stood taller. George grasped the handle of the conference room door, pulled it open, and stepped into the room.


Read Women 2014: May

How did May go by so fast? I just posted April’s books! As usual I didn’t read nearly as much as I would have liked but that’s always the case. It’s been easy so far to just read women authors, I’m starting to feel a bit guilty for neglecting the fellows but then I come across another book I want to read and I get over it.

Book #19: Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific- Mary Cronk Farrell

I was so looking forward to this book. The first time I tried to buy it for my Kindle I got some weird message about a delay due to copyright issues. I waited a few weeks and tried again and voila! This book sounded so great. The previously untold story of brave and heroic nurses in the horrors of the Pacific campaign in World War II? Sign me up! I couldn’t wait to start reading.

As soon as I did the disappointment set in. The writing wasn’t great. The story stumbled along in short bursts and lacked cohesion. That’s okay I told myself. I want to know about these women, keep reading. Then I started to get down right irritated. Where was the editor? Was there an editor? I couldn’t blame the author all by her lonesome. Tidbits like the fact that nurses had to resign if they got married as well as the first person accounts that made the nurses’ struggles so relatable and real kept me going.

Then shit got real. Or really bad. The section describing the Battle of Corregidor had the date off by a year. THE WRONG FUCKING YEAR. Okay, okay, maybe a typo that damn editor missed. And then I turned the page. Again, wrong year. I felt like I was in Bizarro world. Was I wrong? I admit I couldn’t tell you offhand the exact date of the Battle of Corregidor but I damn well know when Pearl Harbor was and subsequent battles would have only happened after this. Not seven damn months before. I even double-checked to make sure I hadn’t gotten a wire crossed because it sure is embarrassing to have a rant and be wrong. Not one, not two, not three, but four incorrect references to the date before I stopped and put the book down. I wasn’t even halfway through.

I quit. I hate to not finish a book. But for a book that touts itself as a historical account you need to get basic things right. Like the goddamn year a battle occurred. I returned the book to Amazon. I’ve never done this before but damn. As interesting a subject as this was to me, this particular volume was not worth my money or time. So for any history majors out there looking for a thesis, this is a great topic that has not yet been given its due.

**So I went back onto Amazon and looked at the book listing again. I had not realized it was supposed to be for a younger audience (listed 10-16 years old). That might help explain some of the simplistic writing, although I read some young adult fiction that is much more sophisticated, but still doesn’t excuse the glaring errors.

Book #20: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste- Valerie Martin

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste weaves together several stories across decades with the ship Mary Celeste as its focal point. The Mary Celeste was one of those “ghost ships” that was found mysteriously abandoned with no clue as to what happened to its crew. The Mary Celeste was real. I have no idea what other elements of truth there are in the rest of the book (Arthur Conan Doyle is a recurring character) and I don’t care, it was lovely.

Book #21: The Three- Sarah Lotz

Dayyyummm. That was my reaction at the end of this book. I’m über sophisticated, no? I got the recommendation for this book from Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds blog, and as usual, Chuck knows what he’s talking about.

The Three begins with four catastrophic airplane crashes in the same day. Of the four crashes only three passengers, all children, survive. The stories of the children and the reaction of the world to their survival is the meat of the story but my favorite thing (besides the general creepy aura of the whole book) was the wonderful way Lotz made the different parts of the world the book takes place in come alive. The South African slum where one of the planes crashes was so vivid and authentic you’d think the author grew up there while online chats between Japanese teenagers rang equally true. The Three was an original and disturbing story and I’m glad I took Chuck’s advice.

Book #22: First Comes Love- Marion Winik

I recently discovered Marion Winik when I took a her session on memoir writing at the Maryland Writer’s Conference this spring. She was funny and honest and her life seemed so nuts I knew I had to read some of her stuff. She talked just briefly about her marriage to her first husband, a gay ice skater named Tony and all I could think was “How does that even happen?” First Comes Love is that story of how.

The book follows Marion and Tony from when they first meet until he commits suicide while suffering from advanced AIDS. In between they fall passionately in love, do lots of drugs, have children, have marital problems, the normal stuff in life but engaging and witty and dramatic when framed by Winik. Wow, is the word I kept thinking to myself. The honesty was compelling, some of the best bits were when Marion admits her own flaws and describes some of her less than stellar actions. Marion and Tony are imperfect and real and that makes their story compelling and entertaining. I’ll be reading more of her work for sure.

Read Women 2014: April

I finished my last book of March while listening to the first ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game of the year so what would be more appropriate to begin my April booklist than a story featuring baseball? Nothing, that’s what.

Book #14: A Whole New Ballgame- Caryn Rose

I enjoyed this book because I could see myself in a much of it. The fledgling fan who becomes obsessed with the sport, the confused girlfriend whose boyfriend convinces her to become serious only to cheat on her the moment she decides to give it a shot, and the fan who can’t understand why a game can mean so much and how people have endured heartbreak season after season and still come back for more until it happens to her. A Whole New Ballgame was a nice diversion and perfectly timed for the start of baseball season. Let’s go O’s!

Book #15: After I’m Gone- Laura Lippman

I’ve long been a Laura Lippman fan so it was easy to pick her latest book for this list. Her books are all set in or around Baltimore (at least all that I’ve read so far) and that’s an added bonus for this Baltimorean. After I’m Gone follows the story not so much of illegal bookmaker Felix Brewer but those of the people he leaves behind when he flees federal charges and years of jail time. His wife, daughters, and girlfriend (who ends up disappearing mysteriously ten years after Felix’s flight) all are affected deeply by his actions. A bit of a twist at the end is nicely satisfying.

Book #16: Liar’s Club- Mary Karr

This is a great book. I guess I somehow missed it when it first came out and it hit the bestseller’s list, blah, blah, blah. But damn. Mary Karr writes about growing up in east Texas with alcoholic parents, add a bit of mental illness, some sexual abuse, a horrible grandmother, and bam! You’ve got a memoir that is touching, funny, familiar in a way you wish it wasn’t, and a book I could barely put down. In one scene Mary describes how she decided to picket a family’s house so no one would with play with the kids she had a beef with. She figured, reasonably enough in that hardcore, hardscrabble union town, every kid in the neighborhood knew better than to cross a picket line. That bit alone is enough reason to read this book. Mary’s family is not one of white picket fences and mothers who wear pearls. Or maybe the mother did wear pearls- she liked her furs and designer clothes when she got a chance to buy them. This family is not perfect but it is real. So much more so than any ‘50s sitcom or hazy ideals we tend to imagine existed back in “the good old days.” Mary and her sister are tough, don’t want your pity, and don’t make any excuses for their family. The guts it must have taken to write this memoir takes my breath away.

Book #17: You Should Have Known- Jean Hanff Korelitz

I read a glowing review about this book in the Washington Post and decided to give it a go. Suspense, murder, intrigue, sign me up! It was… okay. It was hard to feel too much empathy for the poor little rich girl Grace who is wealthy enough to own an apartment in Manhattan and send her son to a $45,000 a year private school when she got snubbed by another parent who was even wealthier. The snub consisted of a mega-rich mom telling merely rich Grace that she could get the doorman to call her a cab. Grace knows that, she lives in Manhattan too! She knows doormen call cabs for spoiled rich women! Seriously, that was such a momentous affront Grace goes back to it over and over throughout the story. She really has worse things to worry about. Other authors have written about wealthy women without making me hate them (like Mary Higgins Clark) but by the time I finished the book my annoyance with Grace had overshadowed the genuinely terrible things that happened to her. The final straw (spoilers) was when Grace and her neighbor begin a romance. Because that’s exactly what she needed two months after finding out her whole life with her husband was a lie- his numerous affairs and fathering of several children with different mistresses, his theft of money from her father, the brutal murder of his most recent mistress, and his flight while leaving her in the lurch and even suspected of helping in his crimes. But, TA DAH! She meets a new man and everything will be OKAY! Whew.

Book #18: A Man Lay Dead- Ngaio Marsh

If you’re looking for a classic English manor mystery, this one’s for you. A house in the country, a murder mystery game gone wrong when one of the players is actually murdered, a slew of suspects, infidelity, and even some mysterious foreigners thrown in for good measure make this a nice, traditional whodunit. Probably best read whilst sitting in front of the fire with a nice cocktail.

Read Women 2014- March

My output this month isn’t as prolific as last month’s. For one, I’m back at work full-time and for another, the first book I chose for March was a massive biography. No quick read there. So for your Read Women 2014 pleasure, here are my March reads:

Book #12: Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations- Georgina Howell

Have you heard of Gertrude Bell? I had not, at least not that I could remember.  She was a scary smart badass. She took a first at Oxford (first women in her subject to do so), she learned Persian Farsi and Arabic along with several other languages like French and German, she was such an accomplished mountain climber there is a peak named after her, after journeying several times to that amorphous region known as “Arabia” (pre-World War I) she decided to become an archeologist as well. Maybe she was bored.

A contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia, she spoke better Arabic than him and helped map uncharted lands throughout greater Mesopotamia (yeah, she learned cartography as well). And she worked for the Red Cross and was a spy and was involved in the creation of the nation of Iraq. Ho hum.

Howell’s biography is very thorough and I enjoyed learning about Bell, warts and all. Her accomplishments were made easier (or possible) by independent wealth and the freedom that comes with it but she also lived at a time where women in England did not have the vote or many other rights we take for granted today. Her enlightened father encouraged her at every step of her various journeys and was the biggest influence in her life.

For all that I loved reading about Bell, the structure of the book was odd and made the story disjointed at times and repetitive. Instead of Bell’s life unfolding chronologically, after the early chapters of her life it was sorted into categories. I am not a fan. One chapter was “Desert Travel” and another dealt with her love affair with a British officer. These times in her life overlapped but the chapters had them in their own separate niches and this theme was followed throughout the book. It was disconcerting to read all about a certain part of her life only to get to the next chapter when the same bit was examined through a whole new perspective. A book just about her travels through the Arabian deserts would be amazing all on its own and I wish this part of her life would have received more attention.

Overall I enjoyed learning about this amazing woman and can only imagine what would have happened if she had a publicist as good as Lawrence’s. I wonder who would play her in the movie…

Book #13: Night in Shanghai- Nicole Mones

I want to go back in time and go to Shanghai and I am sad that the place evoked in Mones’s story no longer exists. The descriptions of the international city are so evocative I almost tapped my toes to the scenes of American jazz playing in the hot clubs around town and scrunched up my nose at some of the Chinese delicacies offered at the best restaurants.

Mones’s vivid accounts of Shanghai during the late 1930s and early 1940s are reason enough to read this book. Otherwise, the plot is uneven and jumps around without rhythm. Music is a major theme in the story that follows the life of African-American musician Thomas Greene who escapes the prejudice of his home country and finds freedom in the international jazz scene of Shanghai. The musical references can be heavy handed and a bit precious- Greene’s love is a woman named Song. I have a working knowledge of music theory and composition but I wonder how many scenes in the story would play for someone without that background. A fascinating subplot of the novel revolves around Jewish refugees from Europe resettling in China and I would love to read more about this subject.

Mones spent a lot time getting the Shanghai of this era just right, I would have liked the plot within the setting to be as tight and interesting.


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