SATAN’S BALL: The M&M Readalong Progresses

Well, Satan’s Ball did not disappoint me in the slightest and in fact kind of reminded me of the balls in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Do you think this book was an influence on Susanna Clarke?

(Y’all, I think Susanna Clarke is going to never write another book. That’s honestly what I’ve come to believe. She wrote one incredible book, we were so lucky to have it, and that’s all we get from her. Thanks, Susanna Clarke. Thank you for this gift.)

Woland and his crew even kick around our old pal Berlioz’s head (remember that?) for old times’ sake — not to mention, of course, that they trot out all the greats for Margarita to meet. Unfortunately, she has some mysterious aches and pains, which I guess shouldn’t be wholly unexpected if you are presiding at a hell-sponsored event, but apart from that she mostly sort of meets people like Caligula and a woman who smothered her own baby. After a few hours this gets kind of boring for her and she starts wishing instead of hanging out with all the hordes of hell, she could meet, like, some new, not-shitty people.

However, she takes her duties as hostess seriously and continues with what she’s been doing, and the afterparty turns out to be awesome. (For her. I was more lukewarm on it.) In a fairy-tale-like turn of events, Woland waits to see if she’ll ask for payment for her night of labor, and since she doesn’t ask for anything, he tells her she can ask for, well, anything. These are her wishes, in order:

  1. That the lady who smothered her baby can stop being given the handkerchief she used to smother the baby. Currently they give it to her afresh every night and it sucks. This is just straight really nice of Margarita.
  2. To have her lover, The Master, back with her. (ugh)
  3. To be returned to the basement apartment where she and the Master used to bang it out. And if you guessed that this becomes the occasion for more satire about the housing situation in Moscow, YOU ARE CORRECT.

Woland also unvampires Varenukha, like that was a thing we cared about. And frankly, at this point, I’m kind of starting to root for the Devil. He’s doing a lot of good in Moscow, like, I know he beheaded Berlioz for just basically being slightly pretentious, and he messed up that landlord’s life who barely did anything wrong. On the other hand, he’s also foiled several housing-related frauds, and now he’s done all this nice stuff for Margarita and the Master, including getting them all kinds of legal documentation that they need.

What I’m saying is that I’d be down for a sequel where Margarita joins Woland’s retinue and they go from town to town fucking shit up for people and foiling housing fraud.

But then guess what happens. Guess. It’s not housing-related satire. It’s the other thing that makes me want to punch Bulgakov in the nose.

YES YOU ARE CORRECT, we then get TWO GODDAMN CHAPTERS of the GODDAMN PONTIUS PILATE BOOK, like is that what anyone asked for, Bulgakov? Come on! I can accept that maybe contemporary Russians had an endless appetite for housing-related satire, but did literally anybody ever in the history of literature enjoy these Pontius Pilate chapters? I saw the next chapter was a Pontius Pilate one and this is some real footage of what came next.

THESE GOD DAMN PONTIUS PILATE CHAPTERS. I have never been so close to cheating on a readalong. There are two of them. Such, however, is my commitment to righteousness and truth — and also we had a short segment to read this week, almost as if some genius had planned the schedule that way on purpose because people get busy as the year draws to a close — that I read both of the damn chapters. In one of them, Pontius Pilate and his head spy try to figure out a way to protect Judas Iscariot from possibly being murdered. In the other, I feel like a dingbat for misunderstanding the previous chapter, because actually the plan all along was to kill Judas and cause a big scandal.

I guess these chapters are not as dull as the previous Pontius Pilate chapters. I GUESS. For your future reference, however, the correct ratio of Satan shenanigan chapters to Pontius Pilate chapters would have been — how many chapters are there total? — 33:0.

As always, thanks to Alice for hosting! Tune in next week on Halloween Day to experience with me the stunning conclusion of Bulgakov’s super-confusing classic, The Master and Margarita.

2016 Is an Illusion: A Links Round-Up

I’m over at Lady Business recommending nonfiction!

This is not tremendously on brand for me, but I just need y’all to know that there are people whose job title is “smokejumper” and before they became smokejumpers, their job title was “hot shot.” For real. This is real life. Here is how excited I was to share this news with Whiskey Jenny.\

Once again, I want to really emphasize that we have done nothing to deserve Alexandra Petri. Here’s her recap of the second and third presidential debates.

2016 is not real. Here’s the evidence. The thing about Mike Hookem is pretty compelling.

How the Nobel Prize winners are nominated, vetted, and chosen.

To the extent of my knowledge (ie based on the movies on this list I have seen), I fully endorse Sonia Saraiya and Jasmine Guillory’s list of the 33 Best RomComs of all time.

A comics author went on an absolute tear about Romani parents crippling their children on purpose, at this year’s Comic-Con. It was an astounding shitshow of ignorance and racism. Andrew Wheeler has a thorough summary of what happened and some thoughts on the way forward for Marvel.

Mentally ill women are missing from our genre fiction.

If you can stand reading more about white nationalism, this is the story of how a prominent white nationalist and member of a hate group that has committed nearly 100 murders in the five years renounced his toxic politics.

Claudia Rankine, queen of my heart, is using her MacArthur Genius Grant to study whiteness (and race in general).

Public Books has released a frankly pretty astonishing syllabus on rape culture in response to All That Shit in the past two weeks. I’m bookmarking this so I can read every single thing they’re recommending. Anyone care to join me?

Review: How I Became a North Korean, Krys Lee

As I’ve possibly mentioned once or twice (or thrice maybe?) on this blog, I find the country of North Korea morbidly fascinating. Even in an election season where the impossible-to-believe comes true on what seems like a daily basis (not in a good way), North Korea remains an unknowably impossible sort of country to have in the modern world. So I obviously was always going to read How I Became a North Korean.

How I Became a North Korean

This debut novel by Krys Lee, who has worked with defectors from North Korea herself, follows three characters on a long and strange journey to find a reality that they can accept. Yongju is the son of privilege in North Korea, forced to flee after the Dear Leader kills his father in cold blood; while a pregnant Jangmi allows herself to be sold into marriage in China in the hopes that her new husband will believe the baby is his. The non-North Korean of the group is Danny, a Korean American teenager in search of meaning.

How I Became a North Korean is a weird fever dream of a book for a weird fever dream of a country. If some of the plot twists seem unlikely, it can’t even compare to the unlikelihood that a country like North Korea could exist, this rarefied environment in which the country’s leader acts with utter impunity against his own people, and of which so little is reliably known that we can’t even assess what needs to change.

(Except, you know, everything.)

Krys Lee is writing about something I haven’t encountered before, which is the difficulties that North Koreans face after crossing out of their own country. Though rescue organizations do exist, Lee has had some experience with predatory Christian agencies less interested in helping refugees than gaining more donation money from visitors. This experience informs the bulk of the book, as North Korean refugees find not safety but a new kind of captivity when they leave their country.

Also appreciated: our dude narrator has feelings about our lady narrator, but he doesn’t make his feelings her problem. He is kind and supportive of her and I appreciate it. Also:

I was alarmed and amazed that she had somehow freed herself. She hadn’t been broken after all, only hoarding her strength.

Have you read/reviewed this one? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

“Hold Onto Your Hats” Was Good Advice: M&M Readalong

Look, either I have Stockholm Syndrome or the book has really kicked into high gear in this, the third section of our Master and Margarita Readalong. Have I eaten any M&Ms yet? NO, but only because I am boycotting Hershey, Mars, and Nestle until 2020 which is when they’ve pledged to go to all fair-trade chocolate suppliers. But we’re halfway through the book and I appear to have stopped caring if any of it makes sense. I guess that’s the point Bulgakov’s trying to make anyway, right? Community Russia makes NO DAMN SENSE.

Now. I will admit that I began this section in a state of outrage because there’s a new character who isn’t Styopa (Styopa is in Yalta, still, I think) but whose name contains “Stepan.” Is this kind and just, Bulgakov? I had just gotten used to seeing “Stepan” and translating it in my head to “Styopa,” and now you come at me with this clerk Vasily Stepanovich Lastochkin, who like Styopa works for the theater where Woland did his magic show, and who also like Styopa was not in attendance at this magic show. Confusing, no?

But fine. Fine. Doesn’t matter. This chapter is great because Woland’s sidekicks go around ruining lives in hilarious ways in it for all the people who work for the Moscow Entertainment Commission. First, the cat curses the head Entertainment Commission guy so that instead of being a person, he’s just an empty suit conducting important Entertainment Commission business. Obviously I am in favor of this because

And Koroviev goes to the branch office of the Entertainment Commission and puts a curse on everyone in the office such that they break out into beautifully timed and harmonized song every few minutes. That sounds — yes, okay, terrible for the people it’s happening to, but extremely pleasant for anyone out on the street! Everyone loves it when groups of people sing in beautiful harmonies! Right? It’s a fun curse!

In this section, we finally meet the eponymous Margarita! She still loves the Master (duh), and she encounters Azazello, another of Woland’s minions, out on the street. I expected her to quickly get decapitated, but y’all, it’s so much better than that, she becomes A WITCH. One of the chapters about her is called “Azazello’s Cream” and this is a paragraph that occurs in it:

“Oh, what a cream! What a cream!” cried Margarita, throwing herself into an armchair.

My sister (who I may remind you gave me this book as a gift almost seven years ago) is probably reading this post like “you’re the worst Jenny, you are the literally worst human being in the entire world.” I KNOW I KNOW but Margarita honestly is like jumping up and down shouting “What a cream!” and for a while I was reading a lot about like, porn production in Victorian London because I had questions after rereading Fingersmith, so I also read some of the produced porn from Victorian London? And ladies dashing around the place crying “What a cream! What a cream!” would not have been even slightly out of place.

(Also: Spanking. So. Much. Spanking.)

ANYWAY, so Margarita gets this cream from Azazello (I know) and rubs it all over her body (I KNOW) and then she leaves a note for her husband saying she’s leaving him to become a witch. This book is so much better than it was in the beginning, y’all. Margarita gets the call from Azazello and flies out of her house — that’s not a figure of speech, she actually can fly when she has this cream on her (look I know, okay?) — while screaming “I’m invisible! Invisible!”

Like that wasn’t awesome enough, she next goes to a dude’s house and destroys everything in it. Things get very Midsummer Night’s Dreamy towards the end of all this, and then someone calls a car for Margarita and she goes back to Moscow. These two chapters have been magical, yo. At some point in them Margarita says this, which I am going to have cross-stitched on a pillow, a thing I very often threaten to do but very rarely do do, and let’s be honest, I’m probably not going to break that record on this but nevertheless I find it very pleasing:

“Once upon a time there was a lady. . . . At first she cried for a long time, but then she became wicked.”


Next week, the devil is going to throw a ball, and Margarita is going to be the hostess of it. I can’t tell you how excited I am for that to happen. Thanks to Alice, as always, for hosting!

Review: The Secrets of Wishtide, Kate Saunders

Note: I received a copy of The Secrets of Wishtide from the publisher for review consideration.

I do not read many mysteries. I think the reason is that so many mysteries come in serieses, and as a completist I find this very daunting. (Yes yes I am in love with the Amelia Peabody books, of which there are infinity, but I started reading them when I was like fourteen so it barely counts.) Also, a lot of mysteries feature divorced dude private eyes wandering around thinking bitter thoughts about their exes. Or really gruesome autopsy details. And I don’t like those things.

However, The Secrets of Wishtide is the first in a series, so there’s nothing to be daunted by; and it stars a widow detective in Ye Olden Days who has nothing but affectionate memories of her deceased husband; and they didn’t hardly have autopsies in Ye Olden Days. Problems solved! Moreover, it’s by Kate Saunders, author of this World War-I1 era sequel to Five Children and It that my library keeps taunting me that it’s in stock but then when I get there it’s checked out again.

Secrets of Wishtide

Curate’s widow Laetitia Rodd is engaged to find dirt on a woman called Helen Orme, whom the son of wealthy industrialist Sir James Calderstone is determined to marry, even though she is Unsuitable. Whilst pursuing this perfectly reasonable and harmless investigation, she finds herself at the center of NUMEROUS MURDERS and must discover what is up before an innocent man is hanged for the crimes.

Someone (probably Shae?) on Twitter compared this series to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and while Mrs. Rodd lacks Miss Fisher’s devil-may-care attitude to societal rules as they govern her own behavior, the book does share Miss Fisher‘s keen awareness of the ways gender norms keep women in check. Nearly every woman Mrs. Rodd encounters in this book has faced censure for stepping out of her society-approved lane, and the severity of the consequences are deeply informed by class and wealth. By the same token, Mrs. Rodd takes frequent advantage of her own relative invisibility as a poor-but-respectable widow to make inquiries of people she otherwise might have no access to. She is cloaked by marriage and position in a cloud of anonymity not available to women like Helen Orme.

So Saunders’s examination of that was a lot of — well, not fun, because it’s depressing, but it was interesting to see in an old-time mystery series. There are plenty of clues and red herrings to follow up, and if the final resolution of the mystery wasn’t tremendously shocking (due to not enough suspects), it was still a fun ride. There is a gruff and skeptical police inspector who — and I hope I’m not speaking out of turn here — can be expected to form a mutual grudging respect with Mrs. Rodd as the series continues. And y’all know how I feel about that.

  1. Pretend that hyphen is an en dash.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 68: Sea or Space, Lone Wolves, and Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost

Another Wednesday, and proper fall still has not come to Louisiana. Luckily I had podcast editing to take my mind off it. Whiskey Jenny says to please apologize to you all for her slight audible congestion; she was fighting off a very bad cough throughout recording and managed valiantly, all things considered. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Peter Freuchen’s appearance on The 64,000 Question

What We’re Reading

The Fade-Out, Ed Brubaker,
The Hairdresser of Harare, Tendai Huchu
Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos, Priyamvada Natarajan

Lone Wolves

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black
The Big Sleep (et al), Raymond Chandler
The Spellman Files (et al), Lisa Lutz
The Cuckoo’s Calling (et al), Robert Galbraith
The Thief (et al), Megan Whalen Turner
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

Picaresques (ugh)

Huck Finn, Mark Twain
Eva Luna, Isabel Allende
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
Confederacy Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

Labyrinth Lost, Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost

For next time: “The Screwfly Solution,” by James Tiptree Jr. and “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi,” by Pat Cadigan

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Illusion, Michael: The Master and Margarita Readalong Continues

Let’s pause for a moment and wish a very happy 154th birthday to my girl Ada Leverson! She was a friend of Oscar Wilde’s. He adored her and called her “darling Sphinx,” and when he went to jail and such, she stayed his faithful and stalwart friend. Which not that many people did. Wonderful Sphinx!

Anyway. Onward. This segment of the Master and Margarita readalong featured a magic show, so if you think that you are going to escape this post without plenty of Arrested Development gifs, you have seriously misunderstood who I am as a person.

First up, we get a bunch more of what I presume is satire relating to the housing situation in Soviet Moscow. It’s probably very cutting, I would have no way of knowing.1 Woland and his pince-nez-wearing friend use bribery and wickedness to gain access to the full apartment that previously belonged to Berlioz (now dead from decapitation) and Styopa (in Yalta), then shop the landlord to the authorities for receiving foreign currency. Non-devil-adjacent characters continue to be furious that the glass in the dude’s pince-nez is broken, and can I just say, I appreciate that. Sometimes in Russian novels characters will fixate on small details and FREAK THE FUCK OUT about them and I’m like “Jesus, chill out, it doesn’t matter,” but in this case I endorse the rage. You are the devil’s right hand-man, bro, replace your pince-nez.

Next, the theater where Styopa (in Yalta) was working wants to know where he is. They cannot find him. Once again, a character (Varenukha, the theater manager where Woland is going to do his magic show) finds that asking too many questions about what the devil is up to leads to heartache. The theater guy who does not ask too many questions (Rimsky) gets a satisfactory explanation for Styopa’s disappearance and a baller stage show, and the theater guy who does ask too many questions (again, Varenukha)2 passed out after encountering a slightly-on-fire-sounding naked chick.

Okay, she’s not that on fire. She just has, like, fiery eyes or something. I suspect her also of being a dementor, because the next time we see Varenukha he is dead behind the eyes and keeps repeating the devil’s lie about what happened to Styopa. Sorry, Varenukha! Sorry you got your soul sucked out by a naked lady with fire eyes! Shouldn’t have asked so many questions!

(Honestly, even if he hadn’t, he’d probably have come to a bad end. The landlord above barely did anything, and he still got taken up by the police and shipped off to the mental institution where Bezdomny/Homeless is spending his days.)

There’s also a chapter where Bezdomny/Homeless decides that the whole thing with Berlioz and Woland wasn’t even that big of a deal. He changes his mind almost instantly two chapters on, so I am not sure why we had to waste our time on this instead of getting to THE FIREWORKS FACTORY i.e., Chapter 12, in which Woland finally goddamn does something, i.e., puts on a magic show.

oh God I know we're mad forever at Will Arnett for cheating on Amy Poehler but I cannot see or imagine this scene without breaking out into helpless giggles
oh God I know we’re mad at Will Arnett for cheating on Amy Poehler but I cannot see or think about this without breaking out into helpless giggles

The magic show is basically just that he rains money down on the crowd and then has the ladies come up to the stage to pick out fancy new clothes and accessories. It’s not that exciting in a traditional magic show way where there are lots of different parts and spectacles, but I like fancy clothes and accessories and money, so I’m not super complaining. Afterward, an audience member stands up and demands to know what the trick is.


Number one:

Number two, I am pretty sure that even in the most dire years of Stalinist Russia, attendees of magic shows had better manners than to demand that the performers show them how the illusion was accomplished.3 I’m kind of mad that of all the people whose lives Woland has ruined thus far, he ruins this audience member’s life the least. Surely this is worthy of decapitation! GAHD.

Anyway, then Varenukha comes back all dead-eyed, I covered that above, and THEN I flipped to the back of my books to glance over the notes for chapter 16 and DO YOU KNOW THE FUCK WHAT THE NOTES SAID?


Here Bulgakov underscores that he is aware how odd it is to have a major figure (whose name is used in the title) first appear more than a third of the way through the novel. Up to this point one could easily conclude that Woland or Ivan is the real hero.

With — because this bro is hella diffident for a bro who supposably is going to get Woland to quit hassling the intelligentsia of Moscow4 — a heaping side of

Well. Now I feel really stupid for thinking Ivan (i.e., Bezdomny/Homeless) or Woland was the main hero. Is the Master going to defeat Woland? With an assist from Margarita, his lovah? Or what? I have been told re: The Master that I should hang on to my hat, so that is what I will be doing heading into this readalong’s third section next week. WE’LL SEE.

  1. I mean, I could look it up, but I am pretttttty lazy.
  2. I will never find it excessive to repeat and re-identify the characters in Russian novels.
  3. I am not sure of this. I don’t think there’s anything you could tell me about Russia and Russians that would defy belief — partly because I am credulous but mostly because I find Russia really confusing.
  4. my mum is reading this like STOP SAYING SUPPOSABLY ahahahaha NEVER

No Luke Cage Thinkpieces: A Links Round-Up

Look, I know. I know. You want to read the hot takes on Luke Cage. I understand that’s where you’re at. I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. But I have only watched four episodes of the series, and thus I haven’t read that much criticism of it yet.1 You will have to wait for the next one for that sweet Luke Cage talk. Here’s what you can have:

A complete history of Addy Walker, who I honestly still can’t deal with the fact that they retired her books and her doll. Hmph.

Why clothes for women don’t have any goddamn pockets.

The VOYA thing began during my last links round-up period, yet somehow continued through to the period of this links round-up. I don’t understand it either. Here’s all the receipts. VOYA’s latest and best apology, although it says a lot of good things, does not come with unblocking the YA authors they’ve blocked, or like contacting Tristina Wright or the author specifically to say what happens next, or like twelve million other things. So uh, take it with a pillar of salt.

If you’ve heard about Ian McEwan’s Fetus Hamlet book but do not want to read it, can I recommend this epic live-tweet of it instead? Jeanne also reviewed it and she did NOT like it.

I already thought Lionel Shriver was a dick BEFORE learning that her latest book featured a black woman kept on a leash by a white family, but now I want to kick her in the shins forever. Pulitzer winner Viet Thanh Nguyen talks about how to navigate the “cultural appropriation” wars.

Girls in houses: Laura Miller on Shirley Jackson.

This review of a Hitler biography is incredible. Honestly. Read this. I don’t want to say it elevates the art of criticism, but like, maybe.

Vinson Cunningham argues that The Birth of a Nation isn’t worth your time. Y’all, the journey of public discourse around this film should be its own damn biopic, seriously.2

Ann Friedman on Kim Kardashian’s recent trauma, the outing of Elena Ferrante, and the place of women in the public eye.

Daniel Jose Older on how (and if and why) to write characters from backgrounds that are not yours.

Angelica Jade Bastién wrote for the New Republic about the price of being a vocal woman of color in the worlds of geek fandom.

Have a good weekend!

  1. Not for spoiler reasons, it’s just kind of boring to read tons and tons of words about a piece of media you haven’t consumed.
  2. Not seriously.

Roller Derby, World of Warcraft, and (ugh) Scots

It’s time for another romance novels round-up! I recently did an awesome interview with a grad student who’s studying romance novels and feminism, and it reminded me that while I still read romance novels, I haven’t talked about them in quite some time. But in fact, I have been reading some incredibly adorable romance novels that you should know about, so let’s get into it.

First up: Roller Girl, by Vanessa North. Tina Durham is a recently divorced former sportsing champion1 who gets a crush on her new plumber, Joe (short for Joanne). Through Joe, she gets involved in a local roller derby team, and they fall in lurv.

Roller Girl

F/F romance novels do not get nearly the love and attention of their het and M/M counterparts, and it’s a damn shame. Roller Girl was the sweetest romance novel I’ve read in a while (except see also Looking for Group, below), and it was wonderful to see a trans protagonist who’s already gone through her transition and is trying to figure out life on the other side; who receives courtesy and not persecution by the people she’s out to; and who gets a happy ending with a super-nice romantic partner. And she gets to be awesome at roller derby at the same time!

If you have other roller derby romance novels to recommend, please do so in the comments. I have been starry-eyed over roller derby (concept of; I do not want to play it; I am weak and unsportsy) ever since the excellent Ellen Page movie Whip It.

Next up: Alexis Hall’s latest, Looking for Group. This one’s about a university student named Drew who develops a crush on a girl (he thinks) in his World of Warcraft guild. (It’s not called World of Warcraft in the book, but I am very clever and figured out that it’s basically World of Warcraft.) When Solace turns out to be a guy called Kit, Drew has to sort out his feelings about Kit, his own apparent bisexuality, and his relationship to the world of gaming.

Looking for Group

Alexis Hall is great at making me feel feelings using only his words — the emotional truthfulness of his romance novels is always what keeps me coming back. Looking for Group was no exception. It starts with, and continues to include, some very dense passages where the characters are playing Pretend World of Warcraft — I have never played a video game a day in my life (except, like, Mario Kart or Guitar Hero very occasionally, both of which I’m terrible at), so this was a hurdle I had to clear to get to the meat of the book.

But! If you can hang in there (and consult the gaming vocab glossary at the back of the book), it’s well worth it in the end. Hall deals with Drew’s college-student-ness so incredibly well — the way each half of a friendship can perceive each other and the friendship in unrecognizably different ways; that thing where you will lounge around with a group of people for hours/days trying to figure out what the next activity of the friend group will be; the difficulty of incorporating a new partner into an established friend situation without friction. It’s a genuine dear of a book.

Okay, on to the Scots! I am sorry that I said “ugh” in the post title. I am not mad at real-life Scots. It’s Scottish romances I can’t abide, which is why it took me this long to read the newest Sarah MacLean book, even though she’s one of my fave romance writers. Reluctant Duke Warnick comes to London under duress, having discovered that in addition to all his holdings, he’s inherited a ward named Lily — who appears to have been Ruined and now requires Saving. He’s determined to get her respectably married, guess what they fall in love, not a spoiler, you already know what romance novels are.

A Scot in the Dark

Luckily for me,2 the Scot isn’t all that Scottish. I had to skip past some moments where his heart and dick swelled because his lass was wearing his tartan (vom), but apart from that it was mostly okay. Per usual, Sarah MacLean is funny and feminist, and it’s always fun watching her characters unravel their emotional dilemmas.

(Her sex scenes can get a teensy bit schmoopy, if that’s a thing that bothers you. I skipped some bits. Tartan, and such.)

What about you, my loves? Read any good romance novels lately? I am always open to recommendations!

  1. Full disclosure, I do not understand what the sport is that she used to do professionally. Something with water? Huh huh watersports oh God this footnote has gone downhill very rapidly, I apologize to everyone.
  2. I have an extreme aversive reaction to even the smallest amount of Scottish accent depicted textually.

Pontius Pilate For Some Reason: The Master & Margarita Readalong

The time is now, my ducklings! After promising it to us for many moons, Alice of Reading Rambo has commenced her fall readalong of The Master and Margarita. Though no official word has yet been handed down, I am choosing to believe that this readalong is sponsored by M&Ms. You can agree or disagree with me as you see fit.

To my extreme shame, The M&M has been sitting on my shelf for six and a half years unread — and what makes it even worse is that my sister gave it to me for my birthday, so not only am I a slacker in reading classic Russian novels, but I am also a birthday ingrate.

In my defense, my sister gave me this book and then advised me to keep a running list of characters and all their various names, and that is — Imma be honest — not the greatest way to make a book seem unmissable. I believe I tried this out when I was living in New Haven and going to Blue State Coffee every morning, and then two things happened, viz.:

  1. My list consisted of two people and one of them immediately got decapitated right as I had figured out all four things the text was going to call him; and
  2. A really obnoxious Yale bro complimented me on my reading choice and I wanted to spite him by hating the book he loved.

So, super legit reasons for never continuing this book for nearly seven years. I guess I can forgive Bulgakov for promptly killing Berlioz / the editor / Mikhail Alexandrovich / Misha, given that he seems like the exact kind of dude who would get into a big argument with you about atheism when you’re just trying to scootch around him and get your hands on the half-and-half so you can go sit down with your damn coffee before you have to get into work.

always true
always true

Anyway, here’s a list of things that happen in the first eight chapters of The Master and Margarita. I kind of don’t know how to comment on any of this, given that so much of it caused me to say “the fuck?” rather than reach any sensible conclusion about what the book is trying to say.

  1. The two characters we meet right off the bat have names that begin with the same letter. God damn it, Bulgakov. They meet a scary guy who claims to be a professor of black magic and also professes to know the future and to have been present at the court of Pontius Pilate.
  2. One of them quickly goes under a bus and his head comes off, pop. Fine. Now I only have to remember one character whose name begins with B.
  3. This one apartment is cursed, but Styopa Likhodeyev, also known as Stepan Bogdanovich, chooses to live there anyway. The professor of black magic, whose name is Woland and who I presume is the devil, comes to stay there also, along with his very large black cat (Margarita, I presume?) and a skinny fellow with a pince-nez. Don’t live in cursed apartments, team.
  4. The poet Bezdomy, also known as Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyryov, tries to convince the town that Woland is a dangerous criminal. Unfortunately, he does not say the useful information that Woland predicted the exact manner of the dead guy’s death. Instead he fixates on this story Woland told them about Pontius Pilate. Like it wasn’t even that good a story. No wonder everyone thinks Bezdomy has lost his hold on reality.

So far, incredibly Russian. It is good I am reading this with a crowd because if I were reading it myself, I cannot promise I would continue this tremendously confusing and random novel.

Ha ha no, it doesn’t suck. It’s just extremely Russian. It’s very, very, very Russian but I can plow through it. Thanks to wonderful Alice for hosting! I’m going to understand this book some day!

no I mean I guess I get why people go to Russia, like maybe all the hostility and freezing cold weather is what they're craving
no I mean I guess I get why people go to Russia, like maybe all the hostility and freezing cold weather is what they’re craving