Monday, November 13, 2017

The Shadow Land

Where are the Vampires? That is all I remember about Elizabeth Kostova's book The Historian. I was working at a bookstore at the time and that book was crazy hyped. She got over a million dollars for the book and she was a first time author. Apparently they thought it would be the next The Da Vinci Code and I'm not even going to parse out what's wrong with that. It turns out it was ok, its been a while and if I remember there were real vampires but it turns out that were a part of a multi-level marketing scheme. Like Amway for Vampires. BUT YOU GET DISTRIBUTOR DISCOUNT! I might be remembering it wrong.

The Shadow Land has no vampires. There are a few hints of the supernatural but it's really a frame story set in Bulgaria with a World War II story tucked inside. It reminds me a lot of Invisible Bridge, so you know it's going to be fun in the sun. That's a bit of sarcasm because this story is not fun in the sun. Is more like cruel in the pool. In Communist Bulgaria story reads you. I don't even know what that means. It's a good book but not amazing. Our frame story protagonist grows up in a quasi-hippy academic household in the Blue Ridge mountains where they were slightly broke but there was an abundance of homemade cookies. That sounds so nice I think that will be included in my happy places. Do you remember "Binders full of Women"? Well, I have a mental binder full of dappled sunlit cottages with drinks and baked goods. Mental happy places come up in this book. Our guy's happy place involves Vivaldi and I'm like...I guess....needs more muffins, but whatever. 

Set in Bulgaria, at one point in this book they drink rakia, because that's what you do. This cocktail is called a Serbian 77. Considering these two countries fought against each other at one point that seems wrong but maybe after 130 years its been long enough. 1/2 ounce lemon juice, 1/2 ounce simple syrup or elder-flower liqueur, 1 ounce kinsman rakia and 3 ounces of champagne or Prosecco.  Combine everything but the Prosecco in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a coupe or large flute and top with the Prosecco.  Garnish with a lemon peel.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Theft by Finding


You guys know what you're getting yourselves into right? Theft by Finding is a collection of David Sedaris' diaries from 1977-2002. This should not be your introduction to his work and the first few years are kind of grim. In fact, there are a number of sad stories in this book but he is great at his wry, funny way to look at life--I mean, really he's made a whole career out of it.  

If you were disappointed in the last book this is much more of his classic style, pared down but spot on.  It inspired me to keep my own thoughts for a bit. Here is my diary entry "Sedaris-style": I think my back pain is something called “computer back.” You would think you could come up with a better title.  I like the good old days when aliments had names like Dowager’s Hump. It's  descriptive, vaguely classy and slightly insulting.  

Here's another one: I got a haircut and noticed that when I style it myself it looks a whole lot like Evie’s. Evie is my friend Terry’s daughter. She’s a cute girl, don't get me wrong, but unfortunately she’s a first grader. To make matters worse, this was Evie’s haircut last year.   

Well, that's my pale imitation of what this book is like. The book gets much more fun when he's just starting to get successful but still desperate enough to take that Macy's elf job. I admire the fact that he's been so diligent all of these years.  He spent nearly all of his nights at IHOP drinking coffee and writing. I kept a diary for about three weeks but the people at work are mind-numbingly boring.  Overheard at my job: "You know what my kid likes to take in his lunch? Lunchables." Here's another one: "You know, I kind of like that Joel Osteen." Kill me now. 

It feels funny adding a drink as David had a drinking problem (drugs too) and gave it up some time ago. But we drink in moderation and live our boring lives so we should be good right? Sure we are. Here's a fall cocktail called Stone Wall.  Muddle in a shaker an inch of sliced fresh ginger with one and half teaspoons of simple syrup.  Add one and half ounces of aged rum, and one and half ounces of apple cider.  Fill the shaker with ice and shake and strain.  Pour into a rocks glass with ice and top with an ounce and half of ginger beer.  Garnish with a lime wedge and apple wedge.        


Monday, October 16, 2017

Gilded Cage


Fantus interupptus: a fantasy series that consists of multiple books that end with a cliffhanger....oh, AND the other books haven't been published yet. C'mon man!  Gilded Cage is a very British fantasy/dystopian novel. Very British. Set an alternative reality Great Britain, the gentry are rich, powerful and magical. The commoners are not magical and have to do ten mandatory years of slavery at some point.  You read that right--slavery.  Of course, with our slow wage growth and health care costs we all have to do about 40 years ho-ho!

There is a political element and a magical element and British-y things. This book is not say... China Mieville's The City and the City sophisticated style political intrigue. (That is one of those books I like more in retrospect).  I live on the border or two cities and it's getting weird. The other day they paved half the street and stopped because the other half is in the "poor city." As if you couldn't guess, I live in the poor city as a commoner. Maybe my city spends all of it's money on matcha powder and succulents like I do. I don't think they do but I WISH. I'm sorry your house is on fire but here is a matcha latte. I'd be like, oh--free latte!

All of the magical gentry are evil except for a few good ones and maybe some marginal ones. They are pretty and have cool houses and can erase your memories if they do something weird to you. Kind a like erasing a bad Tweet I guess. I'm pretty sure that is what my cats do to me when I sleep.  They raise a tiny paw and point it at my head then command me to forget that they have raked their razor claws across my back in my sleep. I wake up like: What's this? with no recollection. I'm going to blame them for all of my random aches and pains. Like if my knee hurts, could it be from doing martial arts for eighteen years? No, it's the cats, it's always the cats and their hypnosis. Anyway, I kind of liked this book, it's not heavy, very YA but I don't know, kind of cool if you aren't expecting Tolkien or anything. (pro tip: you should not expect Tolkien any time you read...unless it's Tolkien, or course).

The gentry in book wear high fashion clothes so why not drink with this drink called High Fashion? (it also seems both delicious and British-y): 2 ounces Plymouth Gin, 1&1/4 ounces elder flower liqueur like St. Germain, 1&1/4 ounces grapefruit juice, 2 dashes of rhubarb bitters.  Shake with ice, strain and garnish with a grapefruit peel.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Atlas Obscura

This book is like an adult picture book. Wait, that sounds wrong. Coffee table book?  Is that still a thing? I have an ottoman.  Not an Ottoman, that would be weird.  Speaking of weird, you may like this book, it's like an encyclopedia of the strange and wonderful things all over the world and the very thing I would have been obsessed with in the fifth grade.  I read The Guinness Book of World Records over and over. I had a big hardback edition with all of the pictures of crazy long mustaches, fat twins on motorcycles, and pictures of gold nuggets, weird seeds and diamonds of all sorts. Among an informal survey of fellow nerds, I was not the only one.

If a typical news day includes both Taylor Swift and Ivanka Trump, you want, no you need, a sense of wonder. Well, that's what Atlas Obscura is for. This catalogs the weird, creepy and funky stuff you may have missed.  Maybe you've even been to one or two of these, fancy pants. I've heard of several of them but most of it is new to me--but that's the whole point!  Did you know some British physician made a bizarre weather predictor trying to use leeches?  It's called the tempest prognosticator, it's actually a beautiful object, doesn't work of course, but it's pretty awesome. (I like the idea that it does work and all the meteorologists secretly have leeches at the station). I don't care about old cold war silos and "museums" which are really just hoarders who collected a bunch of crap but there is plenty in this book that is just cool.  If you don't think so then you are just dead inside. I'm 74th Level Ennui Master and I still found plenty of wonderment.  You should read a couple of pages right before you go to a party just in case you have a boring emergency.  Everyone there will think you are weird and a massive nerd but it would be better than talking for hours about their job, or baseball, or the weather this weekend, or the new truck they just bought or that they think they are getting a cold. Be less boring! Read this book.

I heard maple is the new pumpkin for fall. Be trendy and drink this cocktail called Thyme Will Tell (sigh): 2 ounces of bourbon, 1/2 ounce maple syrup, 1/2 ounce lemon juice, spring of thyme.  Muddle the thyme and stir ingredients and serve on the rocks.  Garnish with a lemon peel.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Archivist Wasp

Sullen, defiant warriors that are ruggedly independent yet secretly compassionate, compelled to aid the helpless, and topple the totalitarian system.....sound familiar? Well, that's because that's the plot of every single young adult dystopian novel. Step one, make their names a little weird, step two have them be reluctant but devastating warriors, step three have at least one character who is a loner and finds a kindred soul.  And...you are done! Congrats you have written your novel!  If you like this take, you should follow Dana Schwartz's Dystopian YA Novel Twitter feed. It is so dead-on it will kind of ruin you.  Honestly, it is truly a bright spot on the grim landscape that is social media these days.

So, I really wanted to like this book by Nicole Kornher-Stace. I promised myself after reading All Our Wrong Todays that I must read more women authors. Then I tried reading Margret Atwood's newish book and I hated it and stopped. Then I read this book and was underwhelmed. Dang it!  I need some prescription Ursula Le Guin STAT. She's still alive I just checked. She is very old but they are making a TV series about The Left Hand of Darkness. Winter is coming....and it's not leaving...ever.  

Wasp, our main character--ah ha! Is a fierce but reluctant gladiator-type warrior ah-ha! that fights humans once a year and ghosts all of the other days of the year. She meets a very special ghost and they go off to have an adventure. There are a several cool ideas in here but it was just so all over the place. While I love a good plot this is mostly plot. For as exciting as it is, I kept putting it down, and for a book like this, that's not good. Some people like it though.

Ok, I know that wasps don't make honey--apparently they will steal it and eat the larva too--but why don't you read this with a honey based cocktail--mostly because it sounds delicious.
Bricks and Ivy: 3 slices of cucumber, muddled, 1 and 1/2 ounces of lime vodka (I would bet you could use regular vodka), 1/2 ounce St. Germain, 1/2 ounce honey simple syrup (one to one ratio) and 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice. Shake the ingredients and strain into a rocks glass topped with ice and garnish with a cucumber.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Anna Karenina

The themes of Anna Karenina are addressed in most of Beyonce's songs. The women aren't quite as empowered, true, but its all about "relationship drama" including but not limited too: baby daddies, someone not putting a ring on it, affairs, people talking crap behind your back and money problems (both too much and not enough). Admittedly, Beyonce doesn't go into a discussion of peasant farming, duck hunting, the Serbian conflict or complicated provincial elections. That's the bonus part for you. The rest is like an classy Jerry Springer episode.

I don't think Tolstoy was known for his feminist views because the poor women in this book...I mean, sad horns. Apparently it was very easy to "lose" your looks. How, you ask? Oh, like getting pregnant, turning thirty or having a cold.  If they only had plastic surgeons they would have started The Real Housewives of Moscow. This is fascinating to read, as these people who are as rich and educated as they are still act like idiots. For example: He's going to leave me I just know it. Why is he acting like that? He must have another woman.  He is repulsed by me. This kind of stuff...no good can come of it.  As Beyonce says "What's worse, lookin' jealous or crazy? In this book, why not both?

I was intimidated about reading Tolstoy but it really reads like a typical Victorian novel except for the fact that its Russian. I didn't hate it, but instead of the good guys and bad guys of Dickens everyone is just kind of a turd in their own way. I think we are supposed to like one of the main characters as he is our proxy for the author, but I wasn't so crazy about him either. I probably would have thought Tolstoy was a turd in real life too.    

Drink this with a summer Russian Beyonce drink: Rooftop Lemonade: 2 ounces of vodka, 3 ounces of fresh squeezed lemonade, shake in a shaker, strain and add into a Collins glass with cucumber slices and ice.      

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Drawing of the Dark

The Drawing of the Dark sounds like an epic metal band album. Surprise!, it's not about soul sucking harbingers of death but it's about beer!  Well, there are some soul sucker types and I think the grim reaper makes a cameo, but also....beer! This, I believe, was Tim Power's first novel and it's really weird for a first novel.  And while it's subtly funny, there are no dad jokes. I think the main issue with dad jokes is that they have this lazy dumb guy element. But what if you had an erudite professor-type dad? Would his dad jokes look like this? Son: "What do you call those 'why did the chicken cross the road type jokes'? Dad: (sigh) Pedestrian. Here's another one: What do you call an expensive Irish car and drives all over the place?  A Rolls Joyce.

Speaking of obscure references, The Drawing of the Dark is a fantasy set in the medieval times during the Ottoman Empire v. Western Empire times. There are references to all kinds of references. Many of which I am only vaguely aware. I think there are serious gaps in my education. I had to look a few things up and even then I missed so many I'm sure. Dave's grandpa was a college professor. The answer to every trivia question is Bucephalus. I did not have a professor dad.  He was more the type to know all the names of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

For his earliest novel, it is ambitious, not in length but in content. It has many many fight scenes. I enjoyed it but I loved Anubis Gates. That is a tough act to follow, except this is written first, but you know what I mean. And yes, magical dark beer is a plot point. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you that the wizard smokes a dried out snake. That sounds so cool--the smoke coming out of his mouth. Apparently it these snakes had a mild euphoric effect as if you didn't look cool enough smoking a snake.

Of course you have to drink this with a dark beer.  I was lucky enough to visit Ballast Point on my birthday and had a brunch sampler with this Coconut Victory at Sea Imperial Porter.  It has a very strong coconut and fairly strong coffee flavor so you are warned.