Thursday, January 4, 2018

Shriek and Finch

Shriek and Finch are not an obscure comedy troupe from the 40's.That's good because they sound like they would be awful. No, Shriek is book two and Finch is book three in the City of Saints and Madmen trilogy. There are plenty of creatures and monsters in these books but the scariest of all might be the monster of exposition in Shriek. He will bore you to death!

Shriek is written memoir style with the narrator and her brother who makes post script annotations. But if I wanted to deal with two snarky siblings making passive aggressive comments to each other I could just go to Thanksgiving. Granted they went through a lot of more drama than my family. I did have a brother that went though a eat your own spit phase. You know where you lay on the edge of a table and spit, it makes a long string then you suck it back up? Yeah, but we are all in agreement that he is weird as hell.

Finch is written in the style of detective novel. Very noir style. There are some exciting fun fantasy scenes in both books but the first book, City of Saints and Madmen is far superior. You'd be fine with just reading that book. I just struggled a little with these two.

In this series there is city built on the ruins of a civilization of well, I'll just say it...mushroom people. There is some debate on whether they still live underground....(they do, that's not a spoiler). I think I have some in my basement. What I think is weird is while mushroom people sound funky and maybe a little scary but to me, defeating them could be a squirt-gun full of bleach. Barring that, I would just kick 'em. Hey scary dude, what to you think if I just drop kick your head? Ba-dang. Sounds like a comedy from the 40's. They could be little Nazi mushroom people. I'm picturing little tiny jackets.

These speculative fiction fantasy novels just scream absinthe to me. Also, this one has a spooky name which is also appropriate. Death in the Afternoon: Pour 1 & 1/2 ounces absinthe into a champagne flute. Top with 4-6 ounces of champagne.  It should form this milky cloud which sounds freaky!  (I've seen variations of this cocktail with Pernod and also an addition of a sugar cube). 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

East of Eden

Set in the olden times in Salinas Valley California, I just can't feel sorry for someone that owns acreage and acreage of the some of the most gorgeous real estate in the county. "But, my cows are skinny." Boo-hoo. You have a sunshine, an ocean and wildflowers, c'mon man!  Now you could just open up a hotel with daily yoga and make-your-own grain bowls. Actually, they still grow stuff in this valley and are still obsessed with whether it will rain this year or not. Like, rain at all. That seems so weird to me but I live under a great big cloud for five months of the year. Literally and metaphorically. 

East of Eden, set in the Salinas Valley (that's where Steinbeck grew up) is about some Lannister style narcissistic sociopaths. But not everyone is evil, just a couple of them. When I was a kid there was a three episode miniseries of the book and I remember watching just enough to determine that Jane Seymour is evil and no altruistic Dr. Quinn or magic crepey neck cream is going to dissuade me from that notion. I'm sure there are kids now that will never ever trust Lena Headey ever again. I know, kids shouldn't watch Game of Thrones but I would bet some of them did like I watched things that were inappropriate for me. Honestly, the most traumatic thing I even watched on TV was Little House on the Prairie when Albert's girlfriend Sylvia got raped by a clown, gets pregnant, gets called a whore, gets attacked again and dies. Yes, that was an episode. I didn't leave the house for like two years. 

East of Eden is about a couple of families over a period of years so it has this epic family drama feel that is appealing. If you haven't read it, it's worth a read, the drama of the storytelling is not dated (it's excellent) but of course it has some racist language and of course sexist stuff.  Shoot, you watch a comedy special filmed last year and it seems weird.  I'm like, who thinks that stuff is funny anymore? Times have changed so quickly. Anyway, the book is still good and the audio version is excellent if you are into that kind of stuff.

One prominent liquor in the book is Ng Ka Py, a Chinese medicinal liquor which I assume you don't have in the house.  Also, I did some research and it sounds super gross. Lets go with something whiskey and kind of sweet instead. Brown Sugar Cinnamon Bourbon Cocktail:  Make a simple syrup with brown sugar instead of white--also infuse or add some vanilla and a cinnamon stick.  Add two tablespoons of this syrup, one and a half ounces of bourbon to glass with ice and stir vigorously, add a few dashes of orange bitters and garnish with a cinnamon stick.  You can rim the glass with brown sugar if you want but that seems excessive for our hard working frontier folks. 


There are handful of celebrities I would love to have as my friend. Steven Colbert, Tina Fey and John Hodgman...well, he's right up there. Super smart and funny I guess is the common denominator and he doesn't disappoint in this short memoir. He's not the type to regale you with his college sexual conquests, text you a stupid sexist joke, or expect you to know who won the football game. No, he would expect you though to know that Han shot first, which actor was the best Dr. Who, and what the Black Lotus card does. (I only know one of these three--I've never seen Dr. Who but I love the theme music for some reason). Now that I think about it, while I'd like to be his friend he'd, your knowledge is so bereft of the essential basics, we cannot be friends. We can be passing acquaintances at best....Good day to you madam.

Vacationland is the most organized funny memoir I've ever read.  Of course, he studied literary criticism at Yale. No, that is not a joke.  He does make light of how ridiculous that is though.  The whole book is self-aware enough that having two vacation homes as his biggest problem is pretty ridiculous. Warning, if you are a Trumper, you will not like this book as he is very liberal.  I'm sure you'll find that shocking. I feel like everything is so politicized now, even comedy.  I saw a comedian that never does political jokes make a feeble attempt and it was so painful.  It was like watching a mud-skipper emerge from the water and think...technically I can breathe air...but this feels wrong somehow. Oh, and it was.

This book made a short list for best humor book and won someone's list, like Barnes and Noble or someone.  But Vacationland and Theft by Finding are both great. I needed two great humor books in one year.  Hey authors, feel free to make three in 2018, we can handle it. Not only can we handle it...we need it.

John Hodgman is a drinker.  And he loves a martini.  He hates fudge with a burning passion but loves a cocktail.  Here is a variation on a gin martini that I've never tried but it sounds pretty good. This makes 4 small drinks or three larger drinks:  8 ounces of good gin, a 1/2 ounce of sweet vermouth, a 1/2 ounce of dry vermouth. Shake and strain into your glasses and garnish with either an olive or a lemon twist. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

Have you ever heard of a hype man?  In hip-hop or rap there is a bonus guy who sings and/or raps and he "supports" the main rapper with exclamations of exuberance. I don't go to many hip hop shows but recently I saw this DJ who acted like a hype man.  He was a small pale man named Peabody.  His "hyping" included head-banging and raising his arms in front of an Apple computer.  Occasionally he would say "I'm DJ Peabody!"  It's important that you get a good feel for Peabody's voice. Pinch your nose and slowly say PEABODY. Yes, now you have it. So The Bear and the Nightingale has been hyped. But you know, it's good so it's worth hyping.

Katherine Arden is very young and gradated from Middlebury in 2011. HEY, I'M DJ MIDDLEBURY! Yeah...GET IT!  If someone says they went to Middlebury I assume they are either terribly rich, fantastically smart but probably both. They don't need hype men. We are not going to hate on Katherine because we wish her the best so she can keep writing. This book is the first in a trilogy but it does not end on a cliffhanger. Yea! It is based on Russian fairy-tales and set in the Russian middle-ages, but it is also a modern thinking fantasy novel.  It is missing that whole "the witch gets baked in a pot pie" kind of thing.  It's more of a the witch is empowered enough to have her successful Web Series optioned.  Sure she needs the influence of some very powerful men but, c'mon that's just real life. I mean, Amy Poehler can't champion everything.

This is set in a Russian winter so you will feel cold just reading it. I'm convinced I won't feel warm until May at the earliest. It's at least a two kitty lap novel.  Maybe I have a charismatic cat with another cat that acts like a hype man but that's not entirely accurate.  Although I do think a cute name for a cat would be Peabody.

Here's a Toddy variation that sounds delicious: Toby's Toddy: 1 ounce cognac, 1 ounce aged rum, 1 ounce lemon juice, 1 ounce simple syrup and 5 dashes of bitters.  Add ingredients to three ounces of boiling water in a mug. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a lemon wheel studded with cloves.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Under the Skin

🎶 Under the skin...under the skin, darling it's better, under the dermis, take it from me...🎶. Now you have that song stuck in your head for the next 2 to 3 years. C'mon, things could be worse. Under the skin is hard to review without spoiling it--which I won't.  I'm going to call it thriller, ok?  I don't even know.  It's thought provoking and entertaining. That's pretty much all I want in a book anyway.

They also made a movie which came out about three years ago but you didn't see it. It has Scarlett Johansson but it was filmed in Scotland. We had to put the subtitles on so it might have been a good thing we missed it in the theater. By the way, the movie is completely different than the book.  It's really good but weird as hell. It's like Jonathan Glazer channeled Stanley Kubrick at a avant-garde theater class. Fine, it also involves lots and lots of nudity ok?    

In the book, our main character picks up hitchhikers. Luckily they changed that for the movie because when is the last time you saw a hitchhiker? Like 3 years ago? Just when you get that song stuck out of your head you'll see one. The book is short and a little scary but it's good. This is my third Michel Faber book and I've enjoyed all three. I wish he was slightly more prolific. I think Stephen King has a new book coming out. No matter when you read this post that will still be a relevant tidbit of news. Maybe Michel Faber should go to the Stephen King School for Prolific Profundity.

Without spoiling the plot... trust me, a harvest based drink is appropriate. Even though this was set in Scotland this one is called English Harvest. I'm sure in Great Britain those are not even remotely the same thing but to Americans....well, close enough. One ounce dry gin, 3/4 ounce apple brandy, 3/4 ounce dry vermouth, 3/4 ounce unfiltered apple juice, 1/4 ounce orgeat (almond flavored syrup), 3 dashes bitters.  Add ingredients to a cocktail shakers with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or other classy cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.  


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.