Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cutting for Stone

This is one of those big sweeping novels that covers historical events, includes a coming of age novel-within-a-novel, and everything you ever wanted to know about fistulas. DO NOT GOOGLE FISTULAS. Cutting for Stone is a narrative that has a little of everything and a lot of surgery.  If you are very squeamish about medical stuff --skip this.

Set in Ethiopia, the State Department says maybe you shouldn't go to North Africa these days, or Central Africa, or parts of West Africa. The State Department suggests...why not Canada? They seem nice. I've been to Canada many times....someone was rude to us in Montreal...oh, maybe I should have gone to the American consulate. It did involve pastries.

One of the best things about being an avid reader is I get to learn about things like Ethiopia because my knowledge of the country was...not great. The first time I'd heard of Haile Selassie was a joke during the movie Trading Places. I did know that Ethiopians think they have the Ark of the Covenant (for reals). In Raiders they were digging in Egypt. There is a rumor the Well of Souls is in Jerusalem. The State Department doesn't want you going in any of those places....wait, I'm seeing a pattern. Now I'm seeing Rex Tillerson's face melting off...be careful Dude!

This is well written and I suspect that Abraham Verghase is one of those people that can do anything he sets his mind to do. He's still a doctor and professor of medicine and yet this was a best-seller. High achiever much?  In my mind, if I've made homemade croutons I'm Elon Musk. Anyway, this is a fine "modern day classic" type novel but it's not short so keep that in mind.

I'm thinking Africa gets pretty hot.  Also, I think Ethiopian food can be really hot. This seems like it would cool you off as it gets super hot this summer!  This one is not for the dieters. Dang it! That's me! --but I think might be worth it. Coconut Margarita:  1& 1/2 ounces reposodo tequila, 1/2 ounce Cointreau, 1 ounce coconut cream, 1 ounce coconut milk, 1/2 ounce lime juice, a splash of half and half and splash of simple syrup. Shake and strain  into a glass and serve on the rocks with a lime wedge.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sins of Empire

Whenever I don't like a book that other people like I'm like....am I crazy? Maybe I'm old?  Then I think, that's silly, I'm already old and crazy.  Actually that doesn't normally bother me with books the "norms" like, but a fantasy book?  Well, there is SO MUCH fantasy out there now and it is getting very "niche" which is fine, totally fine, I kind of hope I find my perfect niche. I'm just going to call it my white whale niche.  I guess I like intelligent fantasy that gives you a sense of wonder with extra snacking. You know, Hobbit priorities.

If you like Brandon Sanderson and are a Civil War buff this book may be for you. Brian McClellan is literally a former student of Brandon Sanderson so I'm not kidding. He also went to Orson Scott Card's literary bootcamp.  I'm not sure what they teach at said bootcamp but I'd be nervous about any break-out section entitled "Never Adam and Steve" or "Women and other Mythical Creatures in Stories." Anyway, while there is magic and intrigue in this book, it has a plethora of fight and battle sequences.  At one point there is a blunderbuss appearance.  I would never trust a gun that has a synonym for mistake in it's name, but that's just me.  People on Goodreads love this book but he already has a fan base. It's a taste thing. I love coconut but not Alfredo sauce. It's just that this was my Olive Garden's Alfredo extravaganza.

Brian McClellan has an unintentionally funny bio.  He lives in Cleveland and enjoys making homemade jam and playing video games.  Dude, you are a 31 year old full time fantasy writer living in Cleveland.  We know you like video games.  Next your going to tell me you enjoy pizza and beer perhaps? You've got to come up with some cooler things on your bio.  Learn to play guitar or try martial arts.  Don't tell us the embarrassing things like Brian is currently constructing his own duct tape tuxedo and is trying to make "grey tie" a thing.  Or Brian enjoys trying to train his cat to walk on a leash.  I feel like walking a cat is some sort of metaphor for life.  I need to make Thirsty Narrator boot camp with a breakout session: "Quit Dragging your Cat" and "Waiting for Your Cat to Explore that Tree."

One of the main characters is the book is named Lady Flint. This drink is called the Lady Sybil (I think this a Downton Abbey reference) anyway, I have a fondness for champagne cocktails so here's another one.  1 ounce gin, 3/4 ounce St. Germain liquor. Put these two ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a champagne flute.  Top with champagne.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ubik

Skintight gold pants and men's mesh shirts are "business-wear" in Ubik. That is my favorite part of this book. Ubik is a part serious, part goofy sci-fi book. Everyone is writing "serious" sci-fi these days. Some of it has math problems. C'mon!  Many of the modern day writers are consulting with real astrophysicists so that their plots seem believable. Listen, writers of the world.....you are "world building" do whatever you want!  That's the whole point of being a professional writer.  If you care about what other people think go back to selling insurance with co-workers that think that Dylan's second place result in the semi-regional baseball tournament is news. Oh and did I tell you, I think Dylan's over his strawberry allergy. He ate some strawberry ice cream and only one eye closed up. I mean, if that's not progress I don't know what is.

I really think Philip K. Dick did not consult any astrophysicists.  I doubt PKD cared about anyone else's opinion, he had some mental problems, was married 5 times, but he was also one of those people who think that our existence is based on human perception.  He don't need no stinkin' laws of physics!  Also, in the 60's he didn't have to worry about some comic book guy dude tweeting about how one cannot suspend death by living in a deep freeze half-life. Not a care was given! He should have cared when he spontaneously lost his eyesight....yeah, that didn't end well.  

If you think suspended animation, men wearing chaps and see-though shirts is all you are getting with Ubik, well I have some news for you, that is just one many things going on, I'm not even sure there is a decent linear plot. There is also some quirky predictions about the future that are kind of apropos.  Everything is a fee based, you have to pay your refrigerator to open it and pay your door to leave your apartment. That door is a little smart aleck too.  

Note, I would not read this as your first introduction to PKD. If you like his stuff this book is almost a sample of his weird cogitations.

There is a little joke in here about beer made in Cleveland. And in 1969 that would have seemed strange but Cleveland, technically Stongsville, has one fabulous brewery called Brew Kettle. I love their West Coast style IPA called White Rajah but I'm thinking that they make some other fine beers, if that's not your thing. They have a beer called the Four C's that uses four types of hops, two of which are on my WARNING MAY SMELL LIKE CAT PEE PROCEED WITH CAUTION so I'll skip that one, maybe just a sample.  Anyway, Brew Kettle is super delicious so that joke no longer holds up. The smart aleck door--still funny.  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

House of Mirth

You would think with a title like House of Mirth there would be some laughs in this book. I know this was published in 1905 and some contemporary cultural references would not translate.  You know, like watching the really old MST3K episodes. Huh, a Jessica Hahn reference.....ok, ok that takes me back. No, if there is humor in this, it's lost on me.  No one even slips on a banana peel.  That is a timeless gag. Australopithecus was laughing about banana peels.

House of Mirth is a Victorian type novel about a young pretty lady who is kind of broke.  Her main option, what she was brought up to do, was marry rich.  Now she could just become a pharmaceutical rep. Even if you don't marry--it's good money! No problem. Back then, less of an option.

There is some weird things in here about men that are still relevant. Any gift given by a man always has strings attached. Sex strings. Sex Strings would make a good name for a punk band album. The Concrete Pacifier's seminal album Sex Strings.

Edith Wharton grew up crazy rich so she knows what she is talking about with her fancy parties.  She also married rich but the husband had severe depression.  They didn't have Prozac in the olden times so that would have stunk. I guess you could have hired one of those Freudian psychologists that would have blamed his mother and too many phallic references in his childhood nursery.  A lot of good that would have done. Now you're lucky if you get a therapist to text you: eggplant, eggplant, sad face. 🍆🍆😢

This book is well written and not as long as some Victorian novels but this one is only for Dickens-type fans interested in turn of the century sexual politics and high society's complicated milieu.  I know that is all of you so don't rush the bookstore all at once.

Let's pretend we are rich even if we are eating peanut butter on spoons.  A cucumber, basil, lime gimlet seems like it would hit the spot this time of year.  1&1/2 ounces of vodka, 2 slices of cucumber, 2 small basil leaves, 1 ounce of lemonade and 1/4 ounce lime juice. Muddle the basil and cucumber add the rest of the ingredients with ice.  Shake well and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge or cucumber wheel. I'm planting my basil in batches this year so it doesn't come in all at once.  I call that the pestolence. (forgive my pun--I hate myself).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Book Thief

Is there a book version of "Oscar bait?" Well, if there is one, this one has that quality. Nazis. Adorable children. Jews in basements. Death and destruction. The Book Thief is about a little girl, adopted by loving parents in a poor neighborhood outside of Munich. The parents, even though they curse like sailors for some reason, are secretly awesome and hate the Nazis! They aren't totally anti-Semitic!  The Grim Reaper is our narrator so that's in there. Anyway, despite these issues, it's a pretty good book. I can see where someone would LOVE it. But I don't like a book that's too emotionally heavy handed and this one walks a knife-edge.

I recently watched the movie Grave of the Fireflies which has some marked similarities to this book. That animated movie is about orphaned Japanese kids during the war. This book isn't quite that sad.  On the Moh's scale of sadness this is more like an amethyst level of sadness.  Both that movie and this book make you hungry. I am now on a diet. Thanks a lot war-time starvation stories....nom, better eat these cookies, nom, never know when a bomb will hit, nom....ice cream, nom, good, nom, better eat that pizza, nom, I mean children are starving, nom....well, you get the picture. If any enemy ever had to try to starve Americans into submission....well, good luck, because my back fat alone could keep me alive for months. It's very patriotic of me to be starvation resistant. I'm a true American hero. So many of us are.

With rationing and all there is not a whole lot of drinking going on except our girl gets a taste of champagne one day: Drink with this champagne cocktail called the Parasol: 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc, 1/2 ounce St. Germain, 1/2 ounce honey syrup (like simple syrup but honey), 3/4 ounce lemon juice. Add these to a shaker with ice, shake and strain into a champagne flute.  Top with three ounces of champagne. Be glad you don't have to scramble into a neighborhood shelter. The neighbors' terror-farts alone would kill me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spouted Kitchen & Bowl+Spoon

Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen features healthy food, which is beautifully photographed and the food actually tastes good.  Oh, by the way, there is a price to pay.  Not a money price, no, but something just as precious….your blood. Wait, no, it’s your time.  

Want to make some of the best veggie burgers you have ever eaten?  You can, but you should have started them yesterday.  You might be able to make them for dinner if you start making them as you chew your last bite of your lunch. This story really happened: I was going to make the burgers for Sunday dinner but I made some homemade powerbars first.  (That was a mistake). Then I started the burgers, but it was getting so late I had to make sandwiches for dinner.  Essentially, I had to make base camp and go for the summit the next day.  I wanted to cry.  Admittedly, I may have had low-blood sugar, PMS or was exhausted—possibly all three. Anyway, on Monday I almost cried again because I realized these were delicious.  And that was bittersweet because I realized that I needed to make them again. Argggh.

Bowl+Spoon is the Sprouted Kitchen's follow up book. Sara is a blogger so "the Sprouted Kitchen" is her brand, I haven't been on it lately because they had a baby and it's 60% baby...I'm like I CAME HERE FOR FOOD NOT BABY.  Bowl+Spoon is kind of dumb name for a cookbook.  Food+Mouth? Now this came out right during the whole everything's a bowl thing. You want to hate them don't you? So precious, California hipster, millennials, mostly vegetarian, pics of a pretty young family eating outside like they don't have occasional diarrhea like the rest of us. Is there anything else I tell you that can make you a hater? Well, jokes on you because this is delicious too. Damn you millennial hipster! If you like grains + greens and delicious sauces pick this one up.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

All Our Wrong Todays

This is book equivalent of Starship's We Built this City....just because some people liked that song doesn't mean it was meant for human ears. No. This is a spectacular example of the kind of stuff you would get in a creative writing class the first semester in your MFA program. He needed a trusted adviser to tell him, "Elan, this draft makes makes you seem like a arrogant buffoon. Or baboon, whatever, I'm an adjunct and I'm late for my shift at The Gap so I don't have time for this nonsense."

This is a time travel book that is about 20% time travel plot and 80% sexual politics. You know what I want in a time travel book? 100% time travel plot and 0% sexual politics. Our first narrator is an ultra-whiny young adult in the future we should be in....I'm going to call it the non-Kanye 2016. In his 2016 there really are hover cars, world peace and advanced technology. He travels in time, does the classic "made a mistake altering the future" and that is why we have a Kayne world. We aren't supposed to have Kayne at all. Apparently we can't avoid the rampant narcissism ether way.

I did learn a new writer's word just now.  It's called lamp-shading. This is when a writer admits that it may be difficult for the reader to willfully suspend their disbelief.  In All Our Wrong Todays our narrator not only mentions that time travel seems improbable but also he says things like "well, I'm not very good at writing." He also says, "I might be a little sexist." I guess we are supposed to give him a pass because he admits these things? Ah, hells, no. For our protagonist to say he's a little sexist is like Bill Gates whispering to Melinda in the middle of the night... "Hey, Melinda, Melinda....I think I might be rich."

The women aren't treated well in this book. Our narrator has four distinct personalities, one or two of which are rapists. One "less evil" personality got a girl pregnant (her fault) so she kills herself (of course). I eye-rolled so much during this book that my contacts almost flew out of my head. Our narrator tries to redeem himself in the end but I'm like...I don't like you, I don't like anything about you, you sir, are a jerk. There are people that enjoyed this book but I couldn't get past the misogyny and weird writing style. If you like it, ok, enjoy your Kanye universe because I'm opting out.

I don't think you are reading this book but you are going to have some kind of fabulous drink. Bloomsbury Fizz: 1&1/4 ounces Gin, 1/3 ounce lemon juice, 1/3 ounce simple syrup, 1/4 ounce raspberry puree, one egg white, mix all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, strain into a highball glass with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a fresh raspberry or two. You can omit the egg white if you are afraid of it (my mom was a total freak about salmonella when I was a kid and I was deprived of raw cookie dough--note to self--bring this up in therapy next month) but it won't have the proper fizz froth.  If you make two drinks one egg white is plenty for both drinks.