Monday, January 27, 2020

The World That We Knew

What if The Terminator was sent to Nazi occupied France to protect his future creator's great grandma from being sent to Auschwitz? That sounds awesome. It's not exactly the plot of this book but also not a bad idea? There is hint of that idea in this book so I think you should read it. Alice Hoffman is more known for "magical realism" than writing Terminator fan fiction but this book is worth reading anyway.

It's hard to pull off a Nazi book that doesn't get dangerously close to manipulatively sentimental. While this one doesn't cross it it still has this IMPORTANT BOOK vibe. It's hard to pull off magical realism with Nazis but she nails it. I wouldn't be surprised if this gets opted for a movie. 

If my movie was made I think Gal Gadot would be a good Nazi defeating terminator. I like the idea of corny anachronistic lines like, "Hey Goring, this is from Miss Israel 2004." (Puts on sunglasses--blows him away with a rocket launcher). "How about a shrimp on the Klaus Barbie..." (blasts him with a flamethrower). 

There is no terminator but you should read this book anyway. It's mostly kids scared of getting caught by Nazis and the people that help them. She weaves real historical facts in the story so you'll learn things. There is one eye rolling scene but nobody's perfect. Well, except Gal Gadot.

It's a wartime novel so we can always use a little Penicillin (also bees are a plot point believe it or not): 2 ounces of scotch, 3/4 ounce lemon juice, 3/4 ounce honey simple syrup, 1/4 ounce smoky Islay scotch, 2-3 coin size slices of fresh ginger. Muddle the ginger and add the rest into a cocktail shaker with ice except for the smoky scotch. Shake and strain into a rocks glass and garnish with a toothpick with a speared piece of candied ginger. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Woman of No Importance (and Agent Zigzag)

I hate Nazis but I like spies. Who doesn't? This non-fiction book is about an American spy in France during WWII named Virginia Hall who gave the Gestapo fits. It's pretty inspirational. She wasn't groomed to be a spy but volunteered. Things were extra rough for her as she still had an accent and a fake leg. She rarely, but occasionally, had to hide stuff in the fake leg. Ok, now, she lost the leg in a hunting accident, she didn't cut it off on purpose so she could hide stuff. I mean, she was tough but that would be taking it to the next level on the whole spy-craft thing.

This book is more about sabotage in Vichy France then military strategy. I learned way more about Vichy France and my main take away was that  Phillipe Pretain was an horrible old idiot. Military strategy is not really my thing anyway. To me, the Battle of the Bulge is the name of my Mom's old Weight Watcher's pamphlet from 1978. I really wished I kept those things they had intricate drawings of sweets surrounding cartoon devil with a goatee and with tail. Good stuff.

This is a fine book of a truly inspirational woman.  A better spy book but the spy was a sketchy dude is Agent ZigZag by Ben Macintyre. That book reads like a movie script. Eddie Chapman was a "reformed" criminal that fell into becoming a double agent. He was a hero but also an ass. I don't think Virginia and Eddie ever met but I'd like to think she would have whopped him upside his head with her fake leg.

A perfect cocktail for spies is this bourbon based one called The Revolver: 2 ounces of rye heavy bourbon, 1/2 ounce coffee liquor, 2 dashes orange bitters. Stir or shake in a cocktail shaker (or mixing glass) until well chilled, strain and pour into a cocktail glass. Put a large strip of orange peel and twist to release the oils in the glass. Enjoy while looking suspiciously at others.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Spinning Silver

This is the Tom Hanks of books. Everybody loves it and you know, it deserves the love. Set in olden times Russia before it was really Russia, not only do villagers have to deal with crushing poverty but and Elfin King lives in the forest and he's a creeper. Our lady Miryem is from a moneylender family and is really good with money. Of course, Black Friday back then meant that half the village died of the plague. We've really lost the true spirit of the holiday. I celebrate Black Friday the traditional way by staying in my house and drinking healthful elixirs. 

Besides being a world class creep, that Elfin King is greedy for gold and has poor social skills. He would be the star of The Real Housewives of the Elfin Dreamscape. Once he realizes Miryem can make him money he turns into a something like a cross between a crappy Hollywood Agent and the master of a multi-level marketing scheme. Also, there is a Russian noble born lady that uses the elfin gold snags herself a hot Czar. Shoot, this does sound like a new show on Bravo. Anyway the ladies are feistier than they look and it's exciting and you should read it if you haven't already. There is a similar book called Uprooted, set in the same world but this is not a series. It's a very good book except for the romance felt icky and so it lost some cool points but it's still worth reading. 

Let's drink a healthful elixir. Somewhere years ago I suggested a White Russian and a traditional one would not be out of place. This is a variation called The Dude, from the Big Lebowski: 1&1/2 ounce cognac, 3/4 ounce chilled coffee, 1/2 ounce fine sugar, 1/2 ounce heavy cream, 1/2 ounce ruby port and 4 dashes of Angostura bitters. The original recipe calls for an egg...but you can leave it out or use just the white as it will make it frothy. Shake all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a glass. You should probably admire the rug while drinking this as it really brings the room together.  

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Woman in the Window

I've read a few thrillers this year while walking and The Woman in the Window is well, pretty much just what you want in a thriller I suppose.  It certainly has the sales history to prove it. It pays homage to all the old movies it riffs/steals from. It is a good book for what it is. A few twists, sure, but I've decided that I actually like suspenseful  mysteries more than pure thrillers. That's a fine line I know...but well, I'm weird. I'm learning that if everyone is reading it its probably a regular old thriller.

Our unreliable narrator is an agoraphobic who drinks too much and is on psych meds and has PTSD. No one believes her when she says that she witnessed a murder. We are constantly guessing what is reality. She is guessing what is reality. Hopped up on goofballs and wine. Actually, now that I think about it being stuck in a mansion, on drugs, with merlot watching old movies in a bath-robe....I think we are supposed to think she is pathetic but I'm like, where is your TED Talk?  We can't even be bothered to go and get McDonald's anymore. No, you bring to me, sure some fries are missing but that's the price you pay. It's never been a better time to be agoraphobic. Who would even notice?

Apparently the movie coming out is going to be terrible. So you can be one of those people that says the book is better. It usually is--although there are a few notable exception--Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell was better. I didn't bother watching the last season of Game of Thrones so I'm still living in a denial state where I think they did a great job.

So much Merlot...so very much. Lets try a fall sangria with a whole bottle of red. Cranberry Apple Sangria: 1 bottle of white wine, 1 bottle of red wine, 3 cups of apple cider, 3 cups cranberry juice, 1 cup brandy, 4 cinnamon sticks and 1/2 cup mulling spices.  In a medium pan combine the cider and mulling spices, and steep on medium, add the cinnamon sticks and simmer to a boil.  Remove from heat and cool.  In a large pitcher add the rest of the ingredients with ice.  You can top each glass with champagne if you want. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

My Best Friend's Exorcism

Like, totally grody--to the max!  If you remember people saying this or are really into the 80's yet are young (this is a thing I am assured) then you might like this very retro horror book.  He nails the 80's don't get me wrong--also super cool--you can follow a companion "mix-tape" on Spotify.  Each chapter is a song title.  It's pretty clever but this is from the author that made a horror book out of an IKEA catalog. I did forget that Phil Collins was huge.  It's not wrong to put it on there as he was popular and he came up--oh crap--I couldn't hit the advance button fast enough.

So the plot is two best friends in the 80's and one gets possessed by the devil. I did approve of the Iron Maiden track which is completely appropriate. Sounds awesome right? Well, something is missing from the plot.  Warning--it does have a bit of body horror but I would not consider this a "scary book." What is missing from this story is above my pay grade--it's something though.  To use another 80's reference, its like one of those Magic Eye things and you can't see the horse.  (I could never do those things).  Anyway, the 80's details are on point.  I loved Stranger Things but it got both the 80's details and had a great story-line. This is like someone took a Keebler Magic Middle and sucked all the chocolate out. (We didn't get those as those were expensive). That's a rich kid cookie.

Even though this is not a great book, and it is a horror book, it's still a bit of fun.  I was having a really bad weekend when I read it and it brought me out of a funk.

We have to do an authentic 80's drink (checks internet...wow, so many nasty drinks) let's do a drink that's less nasty and also a dessert: Mudslide: 1 ounce each of Kahlua, vodka, and Irish cream and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream (you read that right) to a blender--with a little ice, blend and add to a hurricane glass and drizzle chocolate syrup on top.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Girl in the Tower & The Winter of the Witch

Have you ever read a book so good you get angry? Why can't all books (and series) be this good? Also, when is her new book coming out? Crap she's writing a children's series. Why do the children get all the good things? Luckily she is super young so she can keep writing. Writing books for me. ALL FOR ME. I've read plenty of fantasy books this year and these were the best I've read in years. It's like when you watch TV and none of the shows are funny and you wonder if you are depressed and then HBO's Barry comes along and so you quit therapy.
    
Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Winter Witch are books two and three in this fantastic Winternight Trilogy.  Katherine Arden manages to incorporate real historical events, old school Russian folklore and some modern sensibilities without it being crazy anachronistic. Rebelling against a crushing patriarchal system?  Answer, witches. It's always witches. 

One thing you should note is that I am kind of a sucker for talking animals. Behemoth from Master and Margarita and, well any talking animal.  It's a serious
book but then it has *shakes fists excitedly* talking horses. Horses don't talk they use mental telepathy, duh, they can't speak Russian because they have those giant Tony Robbins teeth. You can only hear them if you are a witch.

Horses and witches are sassy. I cannot recommend this series enough if you remotely like historical fantasy. 

Let's do this fall variation on a Moscow Mule, which seems appropriate: 2 oz of each: cranberry juice, vodka and lime juice and add to 3 ounces of ginger beer.  Add some fresh or frozen cranberries as a garnish if desired.


Monday, September 30, 2019

My Family and Other Animals


Just when you've found paradise there is always a catch.  You have to put your number two toilet paper in a bucket because the pipes are too small in Greece. It makes you really appreciate the blessing of the American sewer system. I'm pretty sure it answers to prayer.....please God go down and other such pleas.

The toilet bucket was a deal breaker for the Durrell family in Gerald Durrell's "memoir" of his spending a good part of his childhood in Greece. They immediately had to find a house that did not require the poop bucket. It sets a tone. We are in Greece but we are still British and will not conform to your poop-bucket arrangement. 

Written as a trilogy to fund his own zoo, (he was a lifelong animal enthusiast and possibly unemployable) you actually only need to read the first book. That book is called My Family and Other Animals and the whole trilogy is called The Corfu Trilogy. I think my father-in-law went to Corfu for one of his honeymoons. Yeah, I used the plural. Don't read the last book (or stop before the last two chapters) as it starts to get a little racist at the end. It's always a risk reading a book that is older. I'm pretty sure the BBC special doesn't include that part.

Setting that aside, it's full of humor, fantastic descriptions of Greece, especially the natural surroundings, in an era just before WWII. It is wonderfully idyllic and even though he spent some formative years in Greece, it is also quintessentially British. The mom makes scones in Greece. There are a lot of animals, including a pet owl. Who has a pet owl? Anyway, he takes some artistic licence of his memories and includes only the good things and possibly embarrassing but funny stuff. His oldest brother, who became a professional writer, is a good comedic foil but in real life he was a jerk of the highest order. I will say the taxi driver who becomes the family friend has the best lines. I did some laughing out loud, which is pretty unusual for me. So this book is good for if every day feels like Monday. (Um, again don't read that last chapter of the last book).

I'm going to spare you an ouzo based cocktail and give you a sangria recipe. The family drinks copious amounts of wine anyway. Add 1/2 apple and 1/2 orange chopped with 3 tablespoons brown sugar to 3/4 cups orange juice to 1/3 cup brandy to a large pitcher and muddle. Add one bottle of dry red wine (maybe it's Greek?) and stir.  Add a little ice to chill. Taste and adjust if needed and chill. This makes 4 cups.