Thursday, October 13, 2016

Riftwar Saga: Siverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon

Dungeons and Dragons is making a comeback or so I've been told. I was never into D&D and while I kind of approve of the massive snacking involved I think a game that lasts like, years, would not appeal to me. I also feel like it would really bring out the pedants. Call the exterminator!  The pedants...they're everywhere! I don't think diatomaceous earth would work either, because instead of puncturing their thoraxes they would just explain that the diatoms were fossilized hard shelled protozoa. Sigh. Anyway, Siverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon are books three and four in this D&D based fantasy series and written well before it was cool. Well before.

First, you should not read these without reading books one and two because you will be horribly lost. Second, you could stop with these four books as it comes to a kind of resolution at the end.  Good enough resolution. I had a slight preference for Silverthorn over Darkness because I'm more interested in a small band of weirdos on a secret mission than multiple castle battle scenes. Now I do know the difference between crenelations and a murder hole, but when I see the word barbican I think about shaving cream and modelling schools for some reason.  So, you'll need to know your castle defenses anatomy to follow Darkness for sure. C'mon, it's good for you. Plus you can casually slip donjon in a conversation. Don't be a jerk about it though...otherwise it will be the diatomaceous earth for you.

It's getting brisk out so it's fall cocktail time: Jack Rose: 1 oz lemon juice, 1/2 ounce of grenadine, 2 ounces applejack.  Shake all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Yes, this will be rosy--grenadine will do that.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Year of Magical Thinking

Everyone Poops...and dies.  Everyone Poops was a great name for a kid's book. Everyone Dies is a good name for a punk band's album. Nevertheless, Joan Didion, who is not dead, although she is old and looks more fragile than a sugar-spun cake topper wrote this book about dealing with her husband's sudden death (while her daughter was in the hospital). Joan is richer, fancier more famous than you and she really is the antithesis of punk rock. Yet, she too will die and someone will write about it. Circle of life, Joan, circle of life.....oh Mufasa. Damn you...who is cutting onions?

I thought this book was really interesting.  How would an intellectual deal with death...well, by doing more research on death, of course! That is what you are getting.  She doesn't dumb it down for you. It also treads this weird line between narcissistic, cathartic and voyeuristic. I suspect this is indicative of her work and why people really like her.  It's compelling. You would not think some old lady talking about death would be compelling but it is.  Well, it's not just me because it did win the National Book Award.

I listened to this book on audio and the narrator is originally from Great Britain but she has a mostly American accent.  That mix between the two is what some people call the "continental" accent. You'll hear blue-bloods from old movies like Grace Kelly and Katherine Hepburn talk like this and it seemed to fit Joan's "voice" perfectly. For whatever reason, at the end of every third chapter they put in some weird piano music to transition for the next chapter...with no warning...the first time this happened it scared me horribly.  I was in the car and it sounded like there was an erudite ambulance siren behind me.

Joan and her late husband were drinkers, in fact, the last thing John drank right before he died was Scotch.  I'd bet it was decent stuff too. I actually love Scotch but I like it neat. I'm warming up to brandy these days and in this cocktail you can use brandy, bourbon or rye. Horse's neck: put 2 ounces of liquor in a tall Collins type glass, put a few cubes and fill the rest with ginger ale. Garnish with a long lemon peel that you artfully drape in the length of the glass. Enjoy your life.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In the Heart of the Sea

I'm really sad that Burger King no longer calls their fish sandwich The Whaler.  I think it was meant to be the co-conspirator of the Whopper.  I'm sure BK liked the symmetry in naming their giant greasy sandwiches.  What name can we give it that makes it sounds like you are getting something large but might make you sick?  Hey, not only do I have one name.....I've got two!  Anyway, In the Heart of the Sea is about whalers who suffer more problems than a lonely teenager that tries to eat a Whopper and Whaler in the same sitting.  We call that the ol' plebeian surf and turf.

Do you think I'm not going to read a non-fiction book about a shipwrecked whaling ship, because that sounds boring. Well, you're boring, and also dead wrong.  This book is awesome.  It's very exciting and well written. I listened to the audio book and the narration was excellent too.  It gets all the stars.  (Yeah, it won a National Book Award too, pfft...whatever).

The story about the Essex is the the inspiration for Moby Dick. The author tells you right away some of the worst parts but then explains how it all went down. People were so weird in the olden times. At one point I was rooting for the whale because these peoples' relationship to nature was so bizarre.  What if you came across your buddy and you see he sits down to eat a baby panda.  You would say--C'mon! He's like, what? (baby panda leg hanging out of his mouth). [That did not happen in the book  although they would have totally done that if there were pandas around]. Maybe in the future people will think this about us. I can't believe they used to eat pork back in the day....those are the Emperor's ancestors for Pete's sake.

Drinks: The main thing you will want to drink with this book is water...lots and lots of water. Once you've had your fill how about a super refreshing "last of summer" celebration cocktail: Sgroppino (It's a Venetian drink): 1 oz vodka, one small scoop lemon sorbet, 3 oz Prosecco. In a small bowl, whisk the vodka, sorbet and some of the Prosecco until it reaches a slushy consistency. Slowly add the rest of the Prosecco and incorporate with a whisk.  Transfer this to a champagne flute.  (It's like an adult slushy).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Under Heaven

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Remember that from Gladiator? What if you had a person, off camera say...."Meh"? or "Uninspired!" (Gladiator instantly turns into a Mel Brooks movie).  Anyway, Under Heaven, while well written, was just not my thing.  In fact, it supposedly gets "exciting" at the end but by then I was kind of in slog-mode. It is about 85% historical fiction with a "hint" of supernatural.  They say it's fantasy but it's not really fantasy. Set in 8th century China its about some dude, horses, concubines, ghosts, a wolf-man (not the fun kind, who makes a wolf-man boring!), ninjas...even "lady ninjas" and lots and lots of court intrigue.

I'm not sure women were this empowered in the olden times.  I guess theoretically there would be a lady ninja or a petite, super-cute lady warrior but I doubt it. You know there would be some 8th century idiot that made a proclamation that lady-ninjas weren't smart, strong or "too emotional" to be hired.  It turns out the idiot is just some bro who lives in his parent's basement playing mah-jong all day and never held a sword in his life (he had a collection of swords but had no idea how to actually use them).

There are plenty of people that liked this book, but sadly, I thought it meh.  I listened to some on audio and the narrator is excellent (one reason I picked this up) but still.....I've heard this is not Kay's best work so I'll probably give him another chance.

Drinks: The characters in this book drink warm spiced rice wine.  Mulled wine will sound amazing in about three months but it's a still a little too hot right now. How about a Ginger Ale and Sake drink?: Mix roughly equal parts sake and ginger ale in a glass with ice and serve with a lemon twist.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Three Parts Dead

Max Gladstone, the author of the Craft Sequence series, (Three Parts Dead is the first in the series), is a young very intelligent author.  It would easy to be a hater, but this book is good so there's no hate. It's creative, smart and action-y.

Gladstone is a Yale graduate. This makes him a Yale-y. To say this properly you need to stick your lower jaw out as far as it can go then say Yale-y all up in your sinuses and in two syllables. He majored in Mandarin.  Now, who spends over $250,000 to major in Chinese except rich people?  People from money. I recently had a conversation with someone from money and these are the tell-tale signs: 1) the shoes are not flashy but seem spectacular nonetheless, 2) the high school they went to has "County Day" as in the name somewhere, as in "The Country Day school of the Village of Country Day," 3) they do not laugh with a great big guffaw where you can see their molars, and 4) they do not interrupt you mid-sentence point to the ceiling and loudly proclaim Awww, wait....this here's my JAM! and then do a kind of shrug the shoulders dance to said music.  If all of the above signs are apparent then you are among the landed gentry.

The first part of a fantasy series, there are already 5 books and I think I'm going to keep going, apparently he's going to write a dozen, but I mean, let's not go too crazy. He's got a couple of interesting characters already set up, a witch-lawyer, a chain-smoking monk that is an expert in HVAC (that's cool...I guess) and a "flawed cop." Ok, two of the three are unique.  Now, I like this series, it's fairly smart and it has a lot of plot.  The only flaw I saw was the "mystery" of the plot ends up in a Matlock-like courtroom scene but I don't remember quite so much fire in Matlock's courtroom.  I'm no expert in Matlock though and admittedly missed some (all) episodes.  

One of the witch lawyers loves vodka tonics.  This is a G&T but I mean--I've got use this recipe called a Witch Cocktail from Nigella Lawson.  Make your gin and tonic the ordinary way using dry gin.  Instead of a splash of lime juice use a (small) splash of creme de cassis.  If you want to get really fancy you can top it with a candied violet.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Punch the ceiling dance!  Punch the floor dance! YES! The long awaited sequel to The Rook is here. The British agents have long been enemies with the dreaded Dutch, now are they allies, but maybe now it's more like frenimies?  I suspect I'm missing some Dutch jokes as a non-European.  According to the Internet, the Dutch have a reputation as a bunch of know-it-all smart-asses. Wow, the Internet must be one big giant instrument for the propagation of the Dutch culture then. I'm pretty sure I have some "friends" that are of Dutch ancestry too.  This happened: "I believe the word you are looking for is unicorn." No, the word I was looking for is the one I used, because chupacabra is much funnier than unicorn. You, on the other hand, are a chupabroma. That's right, a Joke Sucker.

This is not a stand alone novel.  You must read The Rook first and preferably recently. Stiletto, like The Rook, is James Bond meets the X-Men.  All the camp and then some of Bond. Stiletto has a lot of little snarky jokes, most of them work, not all of them, but they are not all Dad jokes, whew. This book is a lot like the first. Fun, not serious and some action scenes.  This was written before the Brexit so even if two supernatural agencies of two European countries could work together that dream is gone.  Sure, I can believe in someone who see through walls but I mean the logistics of a post Brexit union--c'mon now we are talking fantasy there.

There is a character in this book called The Lady. The supernatural agency has it's members named after chess pieces, however in England there is only one Queen.  Why not read this book with a drink called the White Lady. 2 ounces of Plymouth gin, 1/2 ounce Cointreau, 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice and one egg white.  Shake all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, strain and pour into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Left Hand of Darkness

This is not The Martian.  Not that I hated The Martian it just wasn't my thing. This is sophisticated, timeless, philosophical and there are absolutely no boob jokes. Not one. If fact, if you're looking for boobs this is not the book for you. (Try Murakami with a boob description in every book). The residents of this planet (nicknamed "Winter" by earthlings) are sexless except for two days out of the month when they go into an estrus type state. They could turn into a man or a woman depending on who is around I think.  I would imagine that would be challenging it's like, oh's you carry a bra in your briefcase just in case? These important questions were never answered.

Ursula LeGuin's parents were famous anthropologists and intellectuals. I don't think most people get her fancy childhood where your parents host the Illuminati at your house. I know I didn't.  I remember my Dad just yelled at me because I was in his eye-line for the Reds game. We won't even talk about my many many. My house was no Algonquin Round Table. It felt more like living in a zoo among the higher apes.

It's set on a super cold planet so you should read this in the summer. And you should drink this with something cold. [They drink hot beer in this book--no thanks] It's still hot here so try with this very adult lemonade made for a crowd--Limoncello Collins:  16 oz. Limoncello, 12 ounces of gin,  and 8 oz. lemon juice.  Combine these and chill for at least 2 hours. Press three thinly sliced lemon slices in each of your 8 glasses and add ice.  Stir your liquor mix and add to the glass.  Top that with about 2 ounces of club soda.