Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Changeling

Victor Lavalle assumes you have a decent working knowledge of New York City. Well, I've got news for you buddy, I do not. I've only been there once and it's been a while. I remember thinking that it was too expensive to go to the observation deck of the World Trade Center. I know you are thinking, wow I'll bet you regret that, but no, it was like over $22 per person and that was in 2001. Pfft! For some, NYC is their favorite city in the world. I'm like, have you been to San Diego? Sun, beer, succulents and well adjusted corgis running around. No, some prefer a grey, dirty day with a slimy subway pole to grab.

The Changeling is a modern fantasy novel, set in NYC which is like--we get it! It's a retelling of old fairy tales that is going to appear dated in about three years. There is a cautionary tale about new parents that post too many baby pictures on Facebook. Y'all, monsters are coming for you. No, it's not just passive aggressive comments because you'll get those too. "Your baby is so cute it looks just like that prize wining potato I saw on the Food Network." No, real monsters both human and otherworldly. I image they all look like Tony Robbins for some reason.

This book reads more like a thriller than fantasy. It's not a "fun" book. For as exciting as it seems I kept putting it down. Some like it, others meh. This book goes with that trend of newer novels that are "screenplay like" but to me that's what a screenplay is for. It's like giving me a pie and telling me it's a tart. That's not a great analogy as I would not turn down pie. I would judge them for not knowing the difference but I would definitely eat it. There are not a whole lot of desserts I turn down. Ok, flan. Not a flan fan. 

This book covers a lot of NYC including Queens so why not drink a Queens cocktail (yes named after the borough and not QEII): 1 and 1/2 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth, 1 ounce pineapple juice. Add ingredients to a shaker, strain and add to a coupe glass or other appropriate glassware. Enjoy on a fire escape.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Ah, this book is set at a fancy bookstore in the late 90's, maybe early naughts. Remember bookstores? There are still a few around so hug one today. The author really did work at the Tattered Cover in Denver so naturally this a mystery set well...at a bookstore just like that.  I wonder if he actually started this book in the late 90's and that's why its set then, because I feel like he really could have upped the nostalgia by adding more details. What details you ask?  Well, flip-phones, the Rachel haircut, hip-hugger corduroys (swish-swish), Snapple and a casual Radiohead reference. I mean lets just embrace it. One of my favorite things about Better Call Saul is the small details of 2002. Sounds like it was just yesterday but sadly it was not. Blast.   

I thought this book was ok but I will confess that I'm not a huge mystery person, I'll make an exception for an ultra British mystery. I was more interested in the bookstore patrons and employees of the bookstore which are not the main focus. I know when I worked at my three bookstores it was a revolving cast of characters. I had a former trumpet player manager that wouldn't stop talking (oral fixation apparently), a woman that when to a religious boarding school in Italy AND lived on a houseboat in Bermuda THEN she in her partner had desert tortoises in AZ. I had one owner that was into astrology and so he read my "chart" before he hired me--he said it was ok for me to come on board. He has since gone out of business.

I wasn't crazy about our protagonist and that's always going to be an issue so if you are a bibliophile and a mystery person then maybe you would like it. I do wish Michael Sullivan the best.  He's a former bookseller turned successful author. That, my friends, is like hope in a jar. Also, I love his author photo he looks soooo happy. The photographer must have shown him photos of cats in cute sweaters or something.

Lets drink a cocktail from the late 90's for nostalgia's sake: Cable Car: 2 ounces spiced rum, 1 ounce triple sec, 1/2 ounce lemon juice, 1/4 ounce simple syrup and one egg white (optional but will make it make it frothy). Shake it all up in the shaker and strain into a chilled glass. This sounds sweet and decadent. I don't remember the late 90's being that way but I was kind of broke back then--probably from my low pay working at the bookstores. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯




Monday, April 16, 2018

The Stranger in the Woods

I think we've all had moments when we wanted to get away from people. I mean you got the weirdos, sickos, pigs, creepers, harassers, pervs, bros, jerks, pedants and tyrants. Oh, and the sports freaks. That's just the men. Then you've got the haters, bitches, fake ding-dongs, bossy, passive-aggressive, busy-bodies, manipulators and gossipers. Whew, I mean there are moments when you just want to live in the woods and not speak a word to anyone for 25 years.  Right? Well, it would be hard to keep all the jokes to yourself though. I feel like laughing at yourself in the woods might be abhorrent behavior.   

This is a biography of Christopher Knight, you might remember him as the dude that lived like a hermit in a tent for 25 years in Maine....including all of those winters. Yikes. He made most of his supplies but stole most of his stuff and all of his food from the neighbors. He was like a ninja thief. They finally caught him with Homeland Security technology. He's a little odd. At first I kind of was like ok, ok, I get it but I looked up photos of him.  And in his photos he looks like a younger Larry David but with Stephen Miller's shark eyes. Ever meet someone and you're like, who are you fooling?  I'm pretty sure you are a sociopath. Christopher did have a sweet tooth but I never trust someone who doesn't like desserts. Although sometimes those people are simply alcoholics.

Stranger in the Woods is a weird biography because Christopher had mixed feelings about discussing his life so Michael Finkel had to stretch out some of the material. It would have been a better magazine article rather than a short book but overall I enjoyed it.  I'm fascinated by survival stories and preppers and things.  I think if we couldn't leave the house how long could we live on the food we have. I figure the liquor cabinet could be like the "bank" and if I had clean water and electricity I could live pretty long on all of my damn quinoa and two dozen artisan grains. But....the cats would get "hangry" and try to eat my face and then my mental musings start to fall apart. 

Apparently, Christopher did occasionally steal liquor but had to take what he could get including strawberry schappes and margarita mix.  We can do better than that.  I'm thinking something woodsy and botanical but a bit more sophisticated.  How about a Lavender Bourbon Cocktail: First make a simple syrup but with a mix of sugar and honey. Then add a vanilla bean (or 1 tsp extract) and 3 tablespoons culinary grade lavender and cook a little further about 10 minutes. Cool and strain. In a highball glass with ice, use one ounce of this syrup, 2 to 3 ounces of decent bourbon, juice of 1/2 lime, and 4 ounces of ginger ale. Stir and serve with a lime slice. Enjoy the simple fact you can have ice in the summer.   

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Library at Mount Char

Talking animals will get many cool points in my estimation. But bad jokes will not. People love this book and I get some of the appeal, it has an interesting "world." And there is a wizard's school (more or less) and a library. Oh, a few talking animals. Or the ability to talk to animals. Cool, cool...all good things...but it also has some...how do I put this delicately....butt-stuff. A great deal of butt-stuff actually. While mostly a fantasy, horror/dystopian book it attempts humor at times. But the humor is not really my style. Imagine Howard Stern but he grew up the South.  Barbecues, chewing tobacco, copious amounts of cursing and a lot things stuffed up butts. Oh, well, one guy pooped his pants, technically that is stuff coming out, but you get the picture.

Most people think it's a weird wild romp. A few people think the mythology is a mess and doesn't follow enough rules. I did know in advance that it was violent, which is certainly true. Maybe I'm dead inside but that doesn't bother me as much as the lame jokes. This book reminds me of Good Omens but instead of the British Dad jokes (eye roll) it's more lets shove an AR-15 up a guy's butt. (squints). There is a little homophobic thing going on here and a lot of rape references (most of those aren't jokes). This was published in 2015 and already comes off kind of tone deaf. Still, it got good reviews. To me, it's very 13 year old bro fantasy. Brantasy? One bad guy is so tough but doesn't understand clothes so he wears a flak jacket and a tutu. "He was wearing what? A tutu?" "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's a tutu." That dialog is reiterated at least a dozen times. Can you do an eye roll and squint at the same time? I'd better not.

Scott Hawkins, like Andy Weir, was a computer programmer and I seem to remember a lot of lame jokes in The Martian too. Was it boob jokes? Apparently computer programmer + body part jokes = bestseller.  'Merica! I'm not including Murkami in here because he's his own brand of weird and also uniquely Japanese. Plus his ear fetish and boob comparison charts are not jokes to him....no, those are serious matters.

I think there is a joke about a monster named Barry O'Shea. I can't remember if he was a Lovecraftian monster or a iceberg with feet. I'm cool with either. Pardon the pun but why not drink a spring berry cocktail? Berry Breeze: 2 ounces of vodka, 4-5 blackberries, 1/4 ounce lime juice--muddle the berries with the vodka in a shaker with ice and shake with the lime juice.  Pour into a rocks glass with ice and top with ginger beer.  Stir gently and garnish with a lime wheel and blackberry. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Moonstone

This is my spring classic. Spring Classic sounds like a golf tournament. Maybe a yachting race?  Something fancy. I read two or three classics a year and The Moonstone, written in 1868 is the first detective novel ever written.  Dickens gave Wilkie Collins a high five over it. Well, an olden times version of a high five, which was a letter. It said something like: You rock bro. (With fancy script that just said 100% ).

The Moonstone has that nice slow pacing that you expect from a Victorian novel. The modern novel is a clustercuss of action and weirdness. Newer books have timelines that are all crazy. This is relax a bit, get a "biscuit" aka a cookie, a coffee, some tea, whatever you need.  You kind of figure a few things out in advance, I mean, we a inundated with detective stories so we can see things coming nowadays. There are a few plot twists in here I did NOT see coming.

Well, done Wilkie. High five, dude.  If you read a little about his life there are some things in this novel that make more sense. He was not particularly religious and there is one character who is a Christian zealot who is mostly in here for comic relief.  Honestly, it's still funny.  She had a religious tract on the evils of bonnet ribbons. Comedy gold.   

One thing that is not supposed to be funny but to me, is crazy, but apparently champagne was used as medicine. That and brandy. Well, aspirin was not used for thirty more years which is weird to think about. High fever? Well, you get lemonade or champagne. What? That or opium. Lemonade and opium....if it wasn't illegal someone would market that as Sunshine Juice. 

It's not a spoiler to let you know that it turns out that the medical opinion of champagne was the correct prescription. This cocktail is made with both cognac and champagne so it should cure all ills. I did not make up the name of this cocktail but it pertains to a medical procedure Barbotage: 1/2 ounce cognac, 1 tsp. Grand Marnier, 4 ounces of chilled brut champagne. Pour the cognac and Grand Marnier in a champagne flute and top with the champagne. Enjoy your prescription.  Refills as needed. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Glass Castle

There is a good chance you've read The Glass Castle as it's been a best seller for many years. I've heard some parents make their kids read this to appreciate what they have. It's a pretty passive aggressive move as the bar on their own parenting is set pretty low. Unless you have a pet tiger you let loose in the house or are purposely setting one the children's beds on fire then you are are parenting better than Rex and Rose Mary Walls.

Some people hate this book as it gives them the creeps. I get it. While there is no tiger in the house, it's honestly pretty close. I actually liked it though. These two are possibly the most neglectful parents you have ever read about.  And such narcissists, I mean, imagine if BOTH of your parents were famous YouTube stars. But Jeannette has this punchy writing style that takes you into her past and you even have a few laughs. One line I like is that the author gets beat up in the first grade and when asked about it she says: "Oh, it was just a little dust up."

We already know, at least for the author, she survives her childhood and becomes a success. She manages to humanize her parents and love them but without giving them a pass entirely.  It's pretty cleverly done, probably because she was a gossip columnist for years. Essentially she's just dishing the dirt. Sometimes it's literal dirt.

A movie version came out last year but I don't see the appeal really.  I like movies with sentient androids. Actually these kids would have been better off with sentient android parents.  Now that I think about it, Rex is lot like Bender from Futurama.

Rex is a raging alcoholic so it feels a little funny recommending a cocktail. So why not drink with a super on-trend session cocktail. Based on the beer name is not a mocktail but it is low in alcohol. This makes a pitcher (serves 6) and would be perfect for a warm spring party. Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade: 10 tarragon sprigs (you could use basil), 2 lemons, 2 tablespoons sugar, 3/4 cup gin, 3/4 cup elderflower liquor, (St. Germain) 1/3 cup lemon juice, one 12 ounce can club soda. Muddle the leaves, sugar, lemon slices in a large pitcher. Then add the gin, St. Germain, add the soda. Stir to combine and serve over ice. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom

So many FEELINGS! That is what always stands out when I read YA. I'm always worried they will break out in interpretive dance. Let's talk about our feelings in the middle of a fight!

"But, I'm worried you don't like me!"

"Um, we're under fire here...I'd like you better if you had some ninja throwing stars...do you in fact have some spare throwing stars?"

"You are just using me for back up!"

"Listen, I only trust YOU for back up....because you're the only one I love....um, I still could use those ninja stars though." 

Ok, ok, Six of Crows is not that bad. In fact, it's kind of fun. This is a that type of urban fantasy that involves pickpockets, thieves, sneaky magicians and a corrupt plutocracy. You know the type. This is not an elves and snacks book. Six of Crows involves a rag-tag team of teenage gang members and misunderstood ex-soldiers involved in a caper-like adventure. Kind of gritty-kitty. In this case, gritty kittens.

Sure this book hits some YA bingo squares, the "bad boy leader," orphans, cliffhanger, star-crossed lovers and oh so many feelings. I'm including both books because the first one ends on a cliffhanger and you'll need to read Crooked Kingdom, the sequel, for at least some closure. Both books have plots like action adventure movies that you've seen but I don't like spoilers. Well they star Mark Whalberg and Matt Damon. That should narrow it down for you. If you like YA fantasy and need a break in your life then it's worth a read.

This drink is appropriate for a band of thieves. This is a variation on one of my favorite cocktails which has the same name: Gold Rush-- 2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce honey simple syrup, 3/4 ounce lemon juice. Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into a small glass.