Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass

These are the second and third books in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.  I reviewed the Golden Compass (the kale one) earlier this year.  Obviously, The Subtle Knife is a big FU to non- English speakers.  I mean, two silent letters?  Really?  And of course, Amber Spyglass is the name of Phillip Pullman's favorite stripper.  Real appropriate for young adult readers Pullman.

So, these are fun and even better than the first book.  For some reason I love reading an epic fantasy series at this time of year.  Is it some sort of heathen rebellion? I was reading LOTR at Christmas every year and this was pre-movies. Of course, I always love me some HP.  Of course I mean Hewlett Packard.  The best book in that series is Hewlett Packard and the Deathly Low-Ink Levels.

As this series continues it gets more complex and yet makes more sense. Think of it this way, as you add more and more pieces to the puzzle you realize...oh yeah, that's a puppy's face!  But even though this was targeted to young adults its pretty darn sophisticated.  Two people that I know love these books have some educational background in Religious Studies.  If you do, you will realize how clever some of this stuff is, but you don't need that knowledge to enjoy it.  Pullman is lifting ideas out of the Old Testament and The Book of Enoch.  (The OT is craaaazy and the Apocryphal books even crazier).  ♫ Angels we have heard on high, don't come down here im-preg-nating me...Gloria...♫.

Fear not, these books are not just about religion but also have theoretical physics, philosophy, and its just plain good epic fantasy adventure. The ending is not ideal in that it kind of hits you on the head with its message.  Its saving grace is that there are magical animals which include but are not limited to: kitties, ermines (a kind of stoat) and pine martens, yes, magical pine martens. 

Drink with a Christmasy cocktail that will make you feel warm inside.   Brandy Alexander: 1 & 1/2 oz of brandy, 1 oz dark creme de cacao (you could substitute Kahlua I suspect) 1 oz half and half  and 1/4 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg.  Put all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, strain and top with the nutmeg.     



 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Scar

I wanted to start this review with a joke about famous people with scars.  When you look this up on Google you get some crazy results.  Did you know Halle Berry has a sixth toe?  Gross!  How she got a secession of hot men to have babies with her...I'll just never know.  Sixth toe.  C'mon!

Anyway, in this sequel to Perdido Street Station, China Mieville brings us more adventures...but this time on the sea! Well, The Scar is not really a sequel, its set in the same world but completely different plot line...on the sea!  Pirates, cactus people, vampires, swordsman, mosquito people and weird lobster people called cray.  I would say, "You are just cray cray bro!" to those people all day long....They would just dive underwater to get away from me.  Then I would dive in and scream CRAY CRAY!  But it would just come out as a big air bubble.  They would know what you meant.  I'd get saltwater up my nose, but it would be worth it. 

The plot moves a little slow, especially in the beginning, particularly compared to Perdido Street Station.  I really nursed this thing, it is not a petite novel.  I think it might have a sixth toe.  One of my favorite things about this book is there is a character that is a dolphin.  His name is Bastard John.  This makes me happy. The best part, there is no elaborate explanation for why he is called Bastard John.  I guess he works "security" and keeps the underwater workers in line with a swish of his tail.  I guess that makes him a bastard.

Drink with a proper sailor's drink, Grog:  1 shot of rum, 1 tsp of sugar, squeeze of lemon, a cinnamon stick, and boiling water.  In a mug, add a shot of rum, the sugar, lemon and cinnamon stick, add enough hot water to fill the mug or to taste.  My expert suggested the in the olden times sailors would float a hard-tack biscuit on top.  I think a little biscotti on the side sounds nicer.  Or this time of year a Christmas cookie.  I mean, we can read about strife on the sea, we don't have to live it. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In the Garden of Beasts

Damn Nazis!  It would be so weird to live in a time right before the Nazi's really took control and you would think, hmmm, lets see where they are going with this....then, WTF!  Maybe you would have thought, I'm not crazy about the random secret police beatings but the fancy uniforms they are so snazzy!  In the Garden of Beasts is a non-fiction book about the American ambassador to Berlin in the 30's and his slutty young adult daughter.  Now listen, women's sexual liberation is awesome, but damn girl!  She slept with Nazis, French diplomats and Communists, all at the same time.  I'm sorry but that's modern you-are-not-the-father-Maury-Povich slutty. This was the 30's mind you, how she didn't get Nazi gonorrhea is beyond me. 

This history book is not boring, no, if you've ever read an Erik Larson book, you know he can make history positively salacious.  According to his afterword, his wife reads his books and puts zzzzzzz's in the margins.  She also puts sad faces with people crying, so we have her to thank for making it interesting. 

The ambassador, who was FDR's sixth choice, was an college professor that was fairly ill suited for the job.  One of the reasons Dodd took the gig is so he would have time to finish his academic book.  It gives that "publish or perish" saying new meaning.  Don't worry, things work out....wait, no they don't.

Oddly it seems that if it wasn't for the damn Nazi's, 30's Berlin would have been really lovely. Garden strolls in the summer and they went crazy with the Christmas trees during the holidays.  Lets think of the nice Germany (the EU country with all the money and supermodel news anchors) so why don't you read this with Gluhwein?  That's fancy German-talk for mulled wine.  Made with red wine, add cinnamon, anise, clove and sugar and heat (I've seen it done with a crock-pot).  You can also drink it "mit Schuss" which means you add a shot of liquor like rum.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Geeks love Neil Gaiman.  I mean love him, they want to have his babies.  Even his male fans.  They want to go full-on seahorse.  I do not want to have his babies and even though I am a geek, I have mixed feelings about his work.  I've read some of his books and enjoyed them and I listened to one of his books on audio and I could...not...do...it.  It was so very very awful.  He was trying to be funny but it was like this broad stupid humor.  Like Two and Half Men funny.  Unacceptable.  Thank the American Gods, this is not one of his "funny" books but his subtle fantasy books. Yes.  Stick with what you're good at. Comedy writing is specialized. A comedy writer was sad that Al Franken became a Senator. He said, "I'm sure he's a fine Senator, but he can write comedy.  Its like if Mark Twain became a florist."  

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a novella, which is book-code for longer than a short story and smaller than a novel.  I'm sure his publisher was like, yes!! People love you so much we can sell it for $25.99.  That's the real price and not a joke. 

This book is a darkly whimsical look at a childhood memory, its a memory the supernatural forces at play keep repressing.  Our protagonist has some freaky neighbors, nice but like Elementals.  Beyond witches, elementals.  They look like ordinary English country folk. His slutty babysitter looks like an ordinary slutty English babysitter, but she is so much more.  Oh, and there are magical kitty-cats!  Yes.  They don't talk but they are magic for just being awesome.  Hey, if I can get mine to not steal my food and refrain from puking on the rug I would consider that magical too.   Anyway, this is a good book, read it. 

This book is anything if not very British.  Any book where the protagonist reminisces about eating a meal with Spotted Dick...well...c'mon.  So drink with an Earl Grey Martini.  I've had a variation on this drink at a restaurant and it was amazing.  Take one teaspoon Earl Grey Tea leaves and let them steep in 1.5 ounces of gin for two hours (yes, you will have to plan ahead), strain and add one ounce of lemon juice and two ounces of simple syrup, add these to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake shake shake.  Pour into a sugar rimmed martini glass.  (lemon wedge, dip rim in sugar). A cold dismal drizzle British-y day..bring it on. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Golden Compass

I gave kale a second chance.  Hey, its a superfood. SUPERFOOD.  It turns out, it was improperly prepared...twice (trust me, it can be nasty).  The Golden Compass is my literary kale.  I first read this book about ten years ago and just was not into it at the time.  I was talking to a fellow reader who asked me about it and I said, "meh"...and he said, "Please, give it a second chance!"  His enthusiasm was so sincere, how could I resist?  Here is the spooky part.  I have almost no recollection of this book.  I'm reading it and the familiarity is so subtle.  I pride myself on my memory.  Apparently, I should not.  Damn, my self-construction has an improperly poured foundation. 

I think you can purchase a Golden Compass at the Bass Pro Shops.  They should expand their hunting and sportsman line to include magical adventures.  If they carried camouflaged capes, hand-whittled hardwood wands and warewolf-based pheromones they would really double their customer base.  No one ever consults me. 

I firmly believe that after reading Perdido Street Station I can handle any fantasy plot line, alternative worlds and made up technology.  Perdido Street Station is like the handstand push up of fantasy books. Everything else is a piece of cake.  Maybe back in the day, I couldn't handle all the weirdness without much exposition.  I am stronger now.  I need one of those rubber bracelets that say "READSTRONG." Anyway, The Golden Compass is a magical adventure involving a young girl, an armored dear, interpersonal demon companions, alternative universes and the Aurora Borealis.  Its as good as Kale stir-fry with tamari sauce.  See, I can change my mind right?

Drinks:  This was marketed for smart children but I think you should drink with adult beverage.  It was set in the great north, like north of Lapland, so drink with a Hot Toddy (also, one of the few alcoholic drinks they give children--hurrah!!).  Now there are about 200 different Hot Toddy recipes out there, so I asked my resident expert which is his favorite.  He responded back in record time:  2-3 barspoons of sugar (smaller than a teaspoon), 2 oz of cask strength Scotch whiskey (I love Glenlivet's Nadurra), 3 oz of boiling water and grate some nutmeg on top.



Monday, November 4, 2013

A Discovery of Witches

Maybe someday Breaking Bad will be in syndication and Jesse Pinkman will say stuff like "What are you looking at, Witch!" And the world will not be a better place for it, not at all.   A Discovery of Witches is not about going to the food co-op or the local drum circle.  I am not going to put any spoilers in here but its about a history scholar on a fellowship to Oxford and finds a fancy magical book.  First, its obvious that this is fiction because she has tenure.  Second, it does have some supernatural characters.  Not just witches but other-types like .... maybe a Yeti?  Alas, no Yeti, but a girl can dream can't she?  I think a Yeti could make any story better and save some bad ones.  The Yetis of Madison CountyEat, Pray, Yeti or even 50 Shades of White

If you don't like thinking too much you will like this book.  I don't think there is any chance you are one of those people though.  The plot in this book is kind of interesting because it involves allegory in alchemy, supernatural international conspiracies, wine and hot men.  Good start....good start....oh wait, the protagonist makes Phyllis Schlafly look like a raging feminist.  I'll wait.  Here is a young tenured brilliant Yale professor who suddenly falls in love with a control-freak who is a manipulator, a liar and dangerous but he loves her and would kill for her.  WTH.  Gross.  Even her parents speak from the grave and tell her that she needs this man and he was destined for her.  Dammit!

This story had potential.  I just can't get over the main character.  I mean she gets a ultra rare alchemy book (her life's work) and gets distracted by another book, which she's read before, because her man put handwritten notes in it and she will "understand" him better.  By the way, he is sitting right there, I mean just ask him, these people have some serious communication issues.  The author, Deborah Harkness is a PhD, scholar and academic, she should know better.  I think this is the classic case of "if only a man would make all my decisions for me then I wouldn't have to write that abstract due on Friday." Granted the details on the history of science and alchemy are first-rate but damn it, this book puts the feminist movement back 50 years.  I am not the only person that had issues with the romance aspect of the book, sadly, the romance is central.

You should drink this book with wine, lots and lots of red wine.  There are detailed descriptions of wine, but I don't think some of these wines exist.  Drink with a beautiful Bordeaux and drink so much that you wish some man would save you, well at least hold your hair over the toilet. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Golem and the Jinni

Some of you may know there is a special place in my heart for a jinni.  So, when I heard about this book I was like whaaaaat?  This is going to happen. Some categorize this book as fantasy.  It really reads more like a historical novel.  From the Jewish mystical tradition, a golem is a creature made out of clay, but this golem is a lady.  If I were made out of clay, the first thing I would do is get to the art supply store, get some potters' tools and scoop out for me, perfect six-pack abs.  Man, that would be sweet.

Ah, the jinni, where do I begin.  Some of you know I have a elaborate "puppet" that is a djinn.  I call him genie.  My genie, is fairly hilarious but this jinni is is not.  This jinni is good-looking and can make his own jewelry, and according to the book he is good in bed, so he'd be quite the catch.  If you could catch a mystical/mythical creature. My genie got me in trouble with my last job and this jinni has issues with his boss.  That makes sense, when you have a spiritual creature made out of fire, they don't exactly tow the company line.  I mean, they are not going to read Who Moved My Cheese.  Maybe he would read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Multiple Dimensioned Creatures.  Actually, I would read that. 

This book is quite good, and this first-time author really knows her religious myths without being pedantic. Heck, she should get an award for that alone.  She does a fine job of telling all the side character's back stories and still making those interesting in their own right.  The only problem is she has a hard time resolving their plots.  Like, oh yeah, that guy, who you devoted 70 pages to, he died, he did?  Yeah, one of the main characters killed him.  Oh.... WHAT? (no explanation)  Its like Virginia Woolfe and the Deadly Parenthenticals.  That sounds like a good name for a very nerdy band.  Very nerdy.  They could all wear cardigans with heavy rocks in the pockets.  Too soon?

Drinks:  This book is also really a love letter to NYC.  Why not read this with a Manhattan?  This drink is older than the turn of the century plot line and has more variations than a yelling goat YouTube mash-up.  Here's the traditional recipe:  2 oz of Rye whiskey, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, dash of Angostura bitters.  Pour these ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes, stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with the cherry (if you can find real Maraschino cherries--they are wonderful).  A new variation for this book?  Replace the Angostura bitters with cinnamon bitters as Jinni is made out of fire. Call this Jinni's Manhattan. 
 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Perdido Street Station

It takes some cojones to name your own genre.  China Mieville calls his work "weird fiction." Of course when you are a man named China, well you'd better grow some, because with that name I would imagine as a child he got a daily beat down.  Perdido Street Station is really steampunk fantasy.  Set in a the city of  New Crobuzon, well, its pretty wild.  Bird-men, frog-men, cactus-men, beetle-ladies, intelligent robots and scary monsters.  Oh, and humans too, some with cyborg attachments.  I don't think you even have to name this "weird fiction," I mean, we get it. 

Anyway, the book won more fantasy awards than you can shake a wand at and there is a reason. Its is pretty gritty and pretty weird.  But when you think about it, is New Crobuzon all that different than any city?  Modern artists literally chew and spit out works, scientists are poor and fat and the politicians are corrupt and converse with agents of the devil.  Now, Steampunk was kind of fad so hurry up and read this already before it becomes laughable. 

I have a "first world problem" with this book.  The book was written in 2003 right before the kindle thing blew up. There are very detailed descriptions of this city and trying to reference the map on a kindle is difficult.  I know, wah, wah, wah.  China Mieville has purposefully created New Crobuzon as a character so there are a lot of detailed descriptions. I just made up my own map in my mind so I'm pretty sure some of the characters went through a neighborhood called Rascal Flats.  There is a cactus dome full of cactus people. I call that cactus dome.  I know, real creative.  Hey, give me a break, this book is crazy enough on its own.    

Drinks: I recommend the Some Moth Cocktail.  You read that right, Moth.  Such a weird name.  Anyway, its from the Savoy Cocktail Book from the olden times:  2/3 Plymouth Gin, 1/3 French Vermouth and dash of Absinthe.  Add a pearl onion. (I probably won't add the pearl onion because I think that represents the moth's cocoon and that is just nasty). 


    

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Electric Barracuda

Does anyone have an uncle that thinks he is hilarious when he farts in a leather chair?  Maybe? Well, this book does.  Think Dexter if told by your uncle with jokes, jokes and more (bad) jokes.  I call this genre joke noir.  Its kind of like the Jack Handy books but the jokes are not nearly as funny and it has an actual plot.  Electric Barracuda is intended to be a "thriller" of sorts.  Also, it is the reverse of most jokey books, the protagonist is the brilliant one and most of the other characters are idiots.  Here is the problem: at one point our main character, Serge Storms, raps.  Yeah, old-white-man-thinks-he-is-hilarious-rap.  Unforgivable.  To put the topping on this poop sandwich its all jokes about Florida.  It could not push more of my "I hate this" buttons.  Oh, wait, it does.  Some of the jokes are sexist, but not funny enough not to be offensive.  At least I didn't notice any racist jokes.  That is sad, the best thing I can say about this book is that it does not have any offensive racist jokes.  Also, it is fairly short. 

This book is really one of those either you love it or hate this type of thing. On Goodreads the people loved it!  (Don't trust Goodreads reviews).  THIS BOOK SUCKS EGGS. I almost forgot to tell you that it full of Florida facts--not jokes but like a Florida travel guide.  I hate Florida.  Wound, meet your new friend, salt.

You are not going to read this book.  Don't even read it for the novelty of reading a crappy book.  You should however drink this drink.  Florida is the sunshine state.  Why not drink Sunshine in a Glass?  1 1/2 oz Lillet, three dashes sunshine bitters, sparkling wine.  Build in a flute glass, top with sparkling wine and garnish with lemon or orange peel.  What are sunshine bitters?  Apparently some delicious concoction made out of saffron and cardamon.  This drink was created by Molly Wellman who has a new handcrafted cocktail book.  I see that the recipe for the cocktail and the bitters is her new book, which I am getting for Christmas (even if I buy it myself).  My friend Rob gave me the inspiration for using this recipe, including this awesome photo that includes a book no less.  Thank you Rob (who is by far the best non-professional cocktail maker I know).


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Warded Man

Every time I saw this book lying around I started singing "This Charming Man" by The Smiths.  Apparently my warbling, overly loud Morrissey impression was disturbing the cats.  They kept looking over their shoulders and moving away at a fast trot.

In The Warded Man, Peter Brett's first novel, we are told the story of three children who overcome nasty childhoods to become successful but dysfunctional adults who battle demons.  That story seems familiar, maybe its based on the life story of Tom Cruise.

In this fantasy novel, the world had a small problem.  Every night, as soon as it gets dark, the earth's core chokes up demons derived from natural elements.  Think wood demons, wind demons, etc.. The demons will tear you to pieces and eat you on sight.  One way to protect yourself is by putting calligraphic symbols around you that create a magic net.  The one character said well, screw this, I'm just going to tattoo those symbols on my body and fight back even if I look like something you would see on TLC or in a bar in Portland.  Whatever.  It's an alternative lifestyle.  There is also a big boobed girl and a redheaded fiddler with half a hand.  The fiddler's music also repels demons. The boobs do not repel demons.  But they attract men who will protect those boobs, so it kind of works when you think about it. 

Its a decent fantasy novel, however, its not amazing.  It takes a long time to the good parts so you may want to skip it.  Fantasy readers are both simultaneously voracious and picky.  Like Hungry Owls.  Hungry Owls would make a good name for a Fantasy Book Club. Copyright pending.

Drinks: Drink with a glass of vintage port that is as dark as demon blood and as sweet as Morrissey's falsetto. 




Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Tipping Point

Last year I listened to What the Dog Saw, read by the same author Malcolm Gladwell.  If you've ever seen him interviewed, he's kind of a weird dude.  I was in my car and literally laughed out loud because at one point he said "Ketchup is amazing." Except he said it with such enthusiasm and emphasis is came out like this: "Ketchup...is...amaaazing." Well, ok buddy.   

The Tipping Point came out a long time ago and it was always on my "I should really read that" someday.  But it turns out that this book was trendy and I'm not totally sure it holds up. It was originally published in 2000 and it feels ancient. As Gladwell would say...."It..feels..aaacient." At one point while discussing remembering phone numbers he says, well, that it why we have phone books and maybe a Rolodex. What the hell.

The book talks about what makes things "tip." What makes a thing turning into a "thing." He uses that same kind of loosely based scientific studies that make you wonder if these studies are making cognative leaps based on coorelations rather than causation. Wait, its not that intellectual. (*punches self in side of head*) Quit thinking so much and enjoy the conclusions! (*drink*)

This book makes you feel like a loser because you are not one of these catalysts for making something "tip."  You are probably not a Maven, Connector or a Salesmen.  I'm not any of those things.  I'm also not whatever Malcolm Gladwell is either.  Sure I like ketchup but c'mon, dude, take it down a notch. 

Drinks: Drink with a fine single barrel whiskey.  We will call that the Tippling Point.  Because, frankly, its close enough. 
  

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Silver Linings Playbook

When I go to the movies I usually see those "blow up" action films that you just can't replicate at home.  I do not go to romantic movies to see a four foot version of Jennifer Lawrence's butt, although I can see the appeal.  I haven't seen the movie, but reading a book after the movie has come out, well, you can't help but picture the actors as the main characters. Not that I'm complaining about visualizing Bradley Cooper.  No, not complaining. 

Themes of this book include mental illness and football.  Frankly, its hard to tell the difference between an Eagle's fan and the mentally ill.  I had a friend that dated an Eagle's fan, and I get the impression that the book is not an exaggeration, that Eagle's fans are like football jihadists.  I suspect they are like Firefly fans but more likely to beat the crap out of you.  No thanks.

The book is written in the style of a diary by the protagonist who just spent several years in the mental hospital.  Maybe the illness or drugs addled his brain but he is kind of a simpleton.  It makes him likable and it certainly makes it easy to read but you can't help but wonder, dude, you'll never reintegrate yourself back into the workforce.  Well, maybe he can work at Foot Locker.

Overall, not a bad little book, not amazing, certainly not a struggle to read.  Pat, our protagonist is so likable and relatable you will think you are mentally ill too. But then again, I already knew that. 

Drinks:  Pat is not supposed to drink while he's on his medications but he drinks when he's watching football anyway. They drink Yuengling, as its set in Philly and Southern NJ, so that makes sense.  Feel free to drink your own local beer.  I like Madtree, not for just use as a joke, its actually quite good, crazy good. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Heart of Darkness

This small classic novella is a significant book whether you want to read a classic, educate yourself on the inspiration for Apocalypse Now, or find an awesome title for your new metal album.  Its public domain now, right?  Heart of Darkness sounds like a medical condition involving a clotting disorder and maybe it is, I am not a medical doctor, but it is also a classic book about some crazy colonialists in Africa.

People were dumb in the olden times.  This was the age when they believed in phrenology.  Phrenology is a pseudoscience (they didn't think it was so pseudo at the time) which involves the measuring of a subject's head and the expert could determine a person's character and personality.  Marlow, our narrator, gets his head measured by the physician before he goes on his big voyage to Africa.  It seems to be the most important part of his physical, unlike getting vaccines or getting preventive medicine before going to malaria-town.  In the doctor's defense, Marlow could now order a fitted Padres' baseball cap for his river adventure.

Marlow, our riverboat captain narrator, sure talked fancy for being a riverboat captain.  He was full of philosophical and emotive language.  Maybe before the Internet, people had more time to get a diverse and comprehensive education, instead of my typical day which includes 2-3 hours of figuring out ideal hash tags and how to get my hands on a copy of next season's Game of Thrones.  One thing that is confusing is that all of the action described is by use of pronoun.  And there are too manys "he's."  And trust me, this adventure is one big sausage-fest.  Is this "he" crazy-man Kurtz?  Is he the crazy Russian or the pink pajama wearing-gun toting-ivory agent?  Even the few ladies don't have names.  C'mon Conrad, just make something up! Oh, wait, you can't because your dead.  Don't feel bad, Conrad lived to be 66 and in the olden times that was a long life.

Drinks: Malaria again--so I have no choice but to recommend a tonic drink.   This one is complicated but its called the Pith Helmet so we need this.  Also this is from David Lebovitz, so I'm sure its awesome.  It involves two types of gin.  I'm going to give a link because it involves quite a few steps and photos:  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2013/07/pith-helmet-pimms-cup-cocktail-recipe/

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure

I was curious to know if Jack Handey was on Twitter. The author of all those Deep Thoughts, his pithy style was designed for Twitter.  He is not, because Jack Handey is old school and those carefully crafted sayings, well, he doesn't write those for free.  It makes sense that a professional joke writer would actually get paid for these jokes.  That seems like an Onion article right there: Middle Aged Man Hopes to Get Paid for Writing Jokes. 

It turns out Jack Handey, ex SNL writer (Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer) has been quietly writing books these last few years.  They are little joke books, the kind that you would buy your Dad for his birthday and be glad you found something (even if he'll never read it and you find it later when you take him to the old folks home with its pristine binding and birthday card still in it). 

If you were to actually read the Stench of Honolulu, its large font and smaller format would probably only take you about 65-70 minutes.  The protagonist is one of those insane characters like the Pirate Captain from the The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe.  If you've never read that, think one of the characters from Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Clueless, narcissistic dummies.

This book is ridiculous but its good for a laugh, or at least a chuckle.  I also read What I'd say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats.  Guess what, more jokes. I do like a common theme in both books which is his "so-called friend named Don." Which is funny because I really do have an acquaintance named Don.  Maybe Jack knows that we all have a so called friend named Don.  Well played sir, well played. 

Drinks: Our main character who sometimes goes by the name of "Slurps," drinks Scotch.  A lot of Scotch.  He drinks a brand called Glenriddance. Which for Scotch drinkers is pretty funny. So drink with your finest cheapest Scotch.  Even for jokes, I don't believe in cheap Scotch, so drink with a Balvenie and a cigar taken from a beheaded man's mouth.  Read it, you'll get the joke, or not, and just think I'm a sick bastard, either way, it makes no difference to me. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Three Weeks in December

I would be very impressed if I saw an obituary that read: "James Gibson, 33, eaten by a lion, services to be held at Hodapp Funeral home on Saturday at 1:00 p.m."  That would be an amazing obituary.  It would almost be worth it.  The odds that I would be eaten by an African lion are pretty small.  I'll probably never go to Africa and I very rarely go to the zoo.  The few times I've been to the zoo, I've never crossed the "idiot moat" to be eaten by said lion.  What's much more likely to happen to me, is for my larger-than-average cat to trip me, I fall down my basement steps, crack my head open and die of a subdermal hematoma.  Not only is that more likely, it is probable, considering he slide tackles me twice a month. 

Three Weeks in December is loosely based on a true story about  lions who ate humans but those hungry hungry lions were never caught.  This part of the story is set at the turn of the 20th century and the lions ate some of the immigrant workers for the East African Railroad.  I would think that human meat is not like wildebeest--I mean that's good eating--human meat must be like one Buffalo Wild Wing, kind of stringy, not much meat, spicy but slightly addictive.  Also, only a quarter on Tuesday.

This book has another story, from another point of view, set in the early 21st century about an ethnobotonist searching for a medicinal vine among mountain gorillas in the Congo.  She has Asperger's and eats a lot of tofu.  I take umbrage here, I don't think tofu, perishable fermented bean blocks, travel well in luggage from America to the heart of the African Congo.  My clean clothes smell like mountain gorilla after a five hour plane ride from Canada.  The author read 90 books of research to write this novel, but I think she neglected to research the perishable qualities of tofu.  I think there is a book on it called Blocks of Death.

For as exciting as this book seems with gorillas, lions and tofu, its just ok.  It doesn't have that special "spark" that makes me want to keep reading. It took me months to finish it even though its only 353 pages.  So keep that in mind when you are perusing the mountain gorilla based novels section in the bookstore.

Drinks:  Malaria is a big plot point in this book so you should drink with a nice gin and tonic.  You should know that modern tonic water has only negligible amounts of quinine so you should drink a whole bunch of them just to be safe.       

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gone Girl

Summer's not over yet.  You may have read this last summer when it was hot off the press.  It was and still is very popular.  That made me very nervous.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I kind of liked it, yeah it turns out I'm as much of a snob as I thought.  I do have discerning taste.  I also love queso dip which is very plebeian, but you will admit, it is so so tasty.

Gone Girl is is a thriller with plot twists aplenty.  Yes, I don't care how smart you are at least one twist will sneak up on you out of nowhere like a weird mole.  I don't want to tell you much of the plot, but its a missing person mystery and the woman's husband is the primary suspect.  That really is about all I can say without spoiling it.  Its kind of "dark" and there is some sex stuff that is little weird, not Murakami weird, think explicit but not sexy.  Some readers criticize this book inarticulately and simply say its "yucky." They are probably not comfortable with a odd ending and some very odd characters.  I loved The Wire and Breaking Bad, so I'm ok with the dark side. Da da da dadada da da da da da da. (That's supposed to be The Imperial March aka Vader's Theme). I'm pretty sure those are from the handwritten notes of John Williams.

With bad behavior and drama in abundance, one thing that might make reading this more fun is just occasionally inserting 1990's Jerry springer audience reactions while you read.  Like, "Quit that zero and get yourself a hero!" or "Ohhh, no she didn't!" and "Snap!" I know you probably already recite these phrases while you read anyway, but they will be especially appropriate for this book. 

Drinks: Hey this is a mystery involving a missing person so why not try a Corpse Reviver? The Corpse Reviver #2 is the most popular of the type so here it is:  1 oz gin, 1 oz Cointreau, 1 oz. Lillet Blanc, 1 oz lemon juice, 1 dash absinthe.  Put all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake and serve. 








Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wool

 
What book are you reading? Wool. What? Wool. You know like fluffy sheep? Oh.  Nothing makes you sound more like a jackass then saying this title.  Wool is hard to say with proper annunciation.  This isn't even a good name for this book.  While wool is mentioned, I suspect the metaphor "pulling the wool over someones eyes," is the title's secret double meaning.  Clever.  This story is set in a giant silo. Hey, Silo might have been a good name.  

I've been reading more than my fair share of dystopian novels these days. (Yep, all Planet of the Apes style).  In Wool, there is a logical flaw in this community's silo living.  Frankly, its missing some guns, it has a few, but not enough.  C'mon everyone knows a gun and ammo are the first thing you pack. Because with a gun you can "get" the rest of your supplies.  True, there is the alternative hippy theory of a dystopian future.  Now, where did I put my butter churn again?

One of the best things about this story's society is that the characters were born in the silo and are the product of successive generations.  It has been so long since civilization has lived outside that the inhabitants wonder if an elephant is a real thing or a myth? That brings me to another flaw, I don't care if they have grow lights, after four or five generations, the people would all be smeagols. Admittedly, it would be hard to cast an all-smeagol movie rather than cast for an olive-skinned sexy lady-mechanic. (I'd still go to an all-smeagol movie).
 
Drinks: If you can have a complete self-sustaining world inside a silo, I could learn to make a moonshine still. Moonshine is making a comeback.  Unaged whiskey or "white dog" can be found in fancy liquor stores or possibly your cousin's basement.  This drink sounds good, but like illegal moonshine, I couldn't find a "proper" recipe so this is my best guess with my own additions. 
 
Raspberry Fizz: 1 oz moonshine or unaged whiskey aka "White Dog," 1/2 oz Grand Marnier, 6 ripe raspberries, 1/2 oz simple syrup, 3 oz (or to taste) seltzer water.  Muddle the raspberries with the Grand Marnier add ice, white dog and simple syrup, shake.  Strain and top with seltzer water.    

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss is the literary Reggie Watts.  Now hear me out, both have crazy hair, both are around the same age, and both took a long time for the public to take notice.  We've noticed.  The Name of the Wind is beloved by fantasy readers.  There is a good reason for that.  If you even remotely like High Fantasy (LOTR) you should read this book.  (You should also check out Reggie Watts who is a musical genius).

The story is set around a parent-less wizard who is brilliant, he goes to wizard school, has wealthy adversaries and becomes a legend.  I know, I know, the plot sounds awfully familiar.  But think more Wizard of Earthsea than Harry Potter.  As beloved as Harry is, he was far from being a genius.  Think of a protagonist that is smart like Tyrion Lannister.  Pedantic and arrogant but not evil. Enough fantasy references for ya? Wow, I'm a geek.    

Some of you know I usually read about three or four books at any given time.  When I picked this up, I was like, um...what other books?  I kind of liked it if you can't tell.

Our protagonist Kvothe, is a gypsy, musician, magician, smart but he has bright red hair.  Here's a problem with the plot.  The hot girls at wizard school, and at least one ultra hot "towny" think he's kind of cute--or something. Well, and don't get me wrong, I've seen some hot men with red hair, but never a malnourished fair-skinned fifteen year old redhead wearing tattered rags.  In fact, no full grown woman likes a fifteen year old boy, so frankly, the paleness and red hair is just insulting.  I guess that's why they call it fantasy.

There is a sequel which I enjoyed called The Wise Men's Fear. There is a third book to this series known as the Kingkiller Chronicle series.  It is due to be published in 2014 but Rothfuss is a notoriously slow writer, like George R.R. Martin slow.  I'm not holding my breath.  I really hope he doesn't give Kvothe gout or sciatica or some equally unsexy ailment.   

Drinks: Apparently there is no drinking age in the kingdom of this book.  Kvothe likes metheglin, which I found out is a real drink, it's just flavored mead, but that name really gives it some gravitas.  I've had bad luck with mead in the past (dirty old sweat sock) but I'm willing to give it another chance.  Also appropriate is ale or a substantial beer.  I LIKE BEER.  So, drink with a tasty local beer while listening to good music.  Any local lute acts I should know about?







Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Flatland

Yes, you can mix theology and science.  We didn't always live in an age when people believe the earth is 4004 years old based on a literal reading of the the Hebrew Bible. By the way, this calculation is called the Ussher chronology, not to be confused with the Usher chronology which calculates the earth's age as 10 years for every time Usher says "Yeah!" in a song.  (At least using this method, the earth is 14,000 years old). Anyway, Edwin Abbott was both a mathematician and a theologian, and he wrote a perfectly fine piece of classic literature which is kind of kick-ass when you think about it.  I'm sure when he was at Cambridge in the 1860's everyone called him Kick-ass Eddie. 

Flatland, which is a slim 96 pages, is weird. Good weird.  A square lawyer explains Flatland to us, knowing we live in Spaceland, and we come to learn all about Flatland's politics, women's rights and all about triangle angle-racism.  Its a criticism of Victorian social mores which is pretty clever. It does get a little tedious is the beginning because when you use an analogy to spoof something, I mean, I get it.  My favorite part is the last third which becomes philosophical.  The square has a dream where he visits Pointland.  There, he encounters a point king that cannot conceive of the observable world of Flatland.  Square, when he is awake, is visited by a Sphere, which he naturally mistakes as a circle.  The Square cannot conceive of Spaceland until it becomes first-person observable. Deep, huh.  After becoming a believer, Square dares to postulate a forth and fifth dimension, which the Sphere thinks is really nuts. Very deep.  Three dimensionally deep. 

No one cared about Flatland when it came out but he was later rediscovered after Einstein's theory of relativity.  Abbott was then considered a visionary because he used time to describe other dimensions.  I wonder what Kick-Ass Eddie would do with string theory.  He'd write Stringland. I suspect in Stringland it would difficult to tell a person's mouth hole from his "other dimension."

Drinks:  In Flatland you should drink something extraordinary. Ok, here is one my favorites which makes no sense on paper, so like the Square, you must taste it to believe it.  The Kretchma:  1 oz. vodka, 1 oz. Creme de Cacao, one dash Grenadine, 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Mix all the ingredients with ice, shake, strain and serve.  Some say it tastes like a cupcake, some say it tastes like the fourth dimension.         

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Snow Child


On paper, this book made sense for the book club.  The safe bet is to pick a book that you've already read, but that's cheating.  So I picked a book that promised the wonder of mythical creatures, short, well reviewed and it has a fox on the cover.  A fox is always a good sign.  I thought, I am a genius at picking books!  Nope, I am not.  In reality it features a depressed Alaskan couple trying to homestead in the super-grim 1920's.  The sad couple discover (or create out of snow) a semi-feral girl (or mythical creature). The fox has a minor role. MINOR ROLE. I think the cover is cute.  Its not a bad book but it didn't exactly generate an lively invigorating discussion either.  It is the Jennifer Garner of books.   
 
If you are really into Russian folktales retold in a different setting, say Alaska in the1920's, this book is for you! The biggest plot point is whether the girl is made out of snow or is an orphaned Swede. Whether she is mythical or real never actually is resolved.  It does get a minor cool point for mentioning how awesome wolverines are.  They are, everyone knows it, but they deserve a mention once in a while.  
 
Eowyn Ivey, whose name appears to be from the Hobbit-name generator, is a first time novelist.  It looks like her second novel is going to be called Shadows on the Wolverine.  Yes, start with cool animal and everything else is downhill.  I think I should write one called The Honey-Badger's Midnight Adventure.  Maybe he can be a sofisicated animal and have a top-hat.  You can't really go wrong.  
 
So, unless you really like reading books in the summer set in the winter, The Snow Child is nothing special.  Its kind of like getting a snow cone with sugar-water but no flavoring.     
 
When I think of Alaska I think of maple syrup so if you are going to read this, why not a maple syrup based cocktail?  This one is called a Jack Rabbit: 2 oz. apple jack, 1/2 oz maple syrup, 1/2 oz. lime juice, 1/2 oz. lemon juice.  Shake with ice and strain.  Garnish with an apple wedge.   


Friday, July 12, 2013

Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls

Answer this theological question for me: Is there a topic so weird even He cannot make it funny?  He in this case being David Sedaris who is a god of the humorous essay.  The answer is yes.  Colostomies are a little too weird. This shakes our faith in Him. One problem when you are fan of an author and have read (or listened to) everything, you know when they have recycled a story and are trying to market it as new material.  Cough cough.  Yes, I haven't read all of these stories before but that Australian bit, I've read, I can't remember where, but its the same essay.  Drats. 

I did chuckle in a story about his Dad and his post work interactions without pants. His Dad sounds a lot like my Dad.  My Dad would take off his suit coat but keep his work shirt and dress pants on for dinner. One of my brothers had undiagnosed ADHD--back in the days we just called kids like this "spaz." Tom, the spaz, had to sit between my parents at dinner, naturally, and would periodically (read that as often) spill his milk all over my Dad.  Now, my Dad had this incredible "push off" technique from the table, you've never seen a middle-aged man move so fast, but the floor splash would get on his dress pants.  THOMAS!! GODDAMMIT! CAN'T YOU DRINK MILK WITHOUT SPILLING IT EVERYWHERE GODDAMMIT!  No, he couldn't...he was and still is a spaz.  That's what they do.  Its like telling a dog not to sniff another dog's butt.  Which is eerily similar to some of the stuff my brother used to do, he had a whole fart repertoire.  Anyway, if my Dad had a no-pants policy he would avoided this.  Frankly, I'm glad he didn't. David Sedaris' Dad wore boxers and my Dad was/is a tidy-whities Dad.  Before you wonder, I know because I sometimes did the laundry. 

Overall the book is mediocre at best, there are some politically charged pieces which kind of fall flat and feel outdated.  Also, he has these short essays satirically authored which just aren't working for me. Like crazy-uninformed-mid west-woman's essay which starts out rational and then falls into absurdity.  Meh.  If I wasn't such a fan, I would say its a pretty good book.  But since I am a huge fan, I say--wow, you can do better, I know you can.  I believe in Him.  I guess I put David Sedaris on a pedestal, but he's so short no one noticed. 

Drinks: David's Dad likes a vodka tonic and why not? Its easy to make and easy to drink. 2 ounces or high quality vodka and 2 ounces of tonic water and a squeeze of lime.  This is also a good time to use that flavored vodka you have.  David's Dad likes a vodka tonic and a "fancy after work snack." God, that makes so much sense to me. In the book, David goes to reach for the snack and his Dad says "you want a fancy after work snack, get a job." He claims his Dad forgot he was eleven at the time.  Knowing my Dad--his Dad forgot no such thing.





Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cloud Atlas

What do a nineteenth century traveller, a rakish young composer, a cute reporter from the 80's, an aging publisher on the lam from thugs, a fast-food drone from the future and a primitive man from the distant future have in common?  Answer: I have no idea.  If fact, if you find out can you let me know?  David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas incorporates these stories in his self described "Russian Nesting Doll" styled book. What does that even mean?  This is the easiest way to describe it, think of each story as a letter, the book reads like this (ABCDEFFEDCBA).  The "F" story is extra long because it is in the middle.  Once you realize this is the format, you might feel like you got "F'd" yourself.  The "A" story, set in the olden times, stops mid sentence and then picks up on page like 480.  I forgot to mention that F is written in heavy dialect. Luckily for Mitchell, these are compelling and creative stories, otherwise the work involved in reading this book would be annoying. Alright, still annoying, but a decent book nonetheless. 

Its hard to describe this book, its a collection of short stories some of which are set in the future some in the past but yet still integrated into a novel.  I think Mitchell went to an old-school brick and mortar bookstore looked at the sign above the sections and said: "I will write a book about True Crime, Music, Travel Narratives, Sci-Fi, Conspiracy Theory, Short Stories, sure, yeah, all of those."  Put them all in and let the reader sort it out.

Apparently this is not the first time he's told a story with multiple narrators whose stories intersect.  But Mitchell wrote that first novel in 1999. 1999 was the year when the Sega Dreamcast debuted, we still had a space program and the year Bill Clinton was acquitted of impeachment.  Anything was possible in 1999.

I've been reading a lot of books set in the future.  All have grimtastic vision of a ruined environment and the humans become impoverished and more primitive.  Essentially, the Planet of the Apes archetype.  Why can't the future be positive? A simple tax code, a fast and pleasant way to travel and dress shoes that don't feel like torture devices.  Now that I think about it, without that space program my dream shoes are never going to happen.  Planet of Apes it is. 

Drinks: A Dark and Stormy is apparently a trademarked drink name of Gosling Rum.  How about a Dark and Cloudy?  I like Flor de Cana Nicaraguan rum anyway.  Unlike Cloud Atlas, this recipe is very easy: 1/2 ginger beer and 1/2 rum over ice and a squeeze of lime juice to taste.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

1Q84


Apparently I have been pronouncing this book wrong for the last year. I have been saying IQ84 and not 1Q84. Now, an IQ of 84 is not good. Its sometimes called a dull normal. Also, it took me an equally long time to figure out that the Q is a cute homonym for the Japanese word, kyu, which means nine. Now, why am I beating myself up for this, you ask? I took Japanese in college. I do a Japanese martial art. Dammit! I am not a dull normal! But the cleverness doesn't stop there, no 1Q84 is set in 1984 and heavily references George Orwell's 1984. This thing is mega-meta. There is a lot of weird sex stuff, which is typical Murakami. The Japanese word for boobs is chichi. I think Murakami had a post-it note on his computer monitor when he wrote this, that said: "Write something every day, but first, chichi." 

In this story, Aomame is a mysterious, petite woman who can kick ass, despite being Chairman of the itty-bitty-titty-committee. Tengo, a smart, but otherwise dull normal man gets embroiled in Aomame's mystery but his part in the story involves a sixteen-year old girl with giant boobs. You should know that the sixteen-year old is a semi literate, semi mute, petite hot chick. Think a savant-sex doll. Creeped out yet? Some of the characters in 1Q84 don't even have names. They are referred to only by their haircuts: ponytail, buzz cut, bowl cut (aka "weight line") and The Rachel. Ok, I made some of those up. 


Murakami isn't for everyone. Its slipstream, which means, is this the real world or am I losing my mind?  Also, I would not read this as your first Murakami.  Its 925 pages but feels like 1125.  The plot moves slooooowly. The sex stuff is creeeeepy. But, is there anyone that writes like Murakami? And this is a translation. He is a genius.  Weird as hell, but a genius.    

Drinks:  Aomame drinks Cutty Sark at a bar while trying to get men to have sex with her. While I've never had Cutty Sark, I've always though it seemed cheap and nasty.  Unacceptable for Scotch. 
In this book, the moon is a prominent plot point, so I am suggesting a Blue Moon Cocktail:  2 oz gin, 1/2 oz lemon juice, and 1/4 ounce creme de violette. One of my favorite cocktails is a variation on this called an Aviation. Same recipe, but add 1/2 oz maraschino liqueur.  It is fantastic.  For fun, you call that one, I don't know, a Two Moon Cocktail...just for kicks. 







Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore

People love this book. People love Cool-Whip.  I used to love Cool-Whip myself, that was until I ate real whipped cream.  Now Cool-Whip tastes like Monsanto light sweet crude to me.  I can see where one might enjoy this book in theory, but c'mon its pretty damn crappy.  Everything about this book is contrived.  The hardcover book even glows-in-the-dark.  Written in a abstract, it seems like a good idea for a book.  Whoops, the first time author used to work at Twitter and considers himself a media inventor. Uh-oh.

Our narrator Clay Jannon, (stupid name), a former designer but laid off during the Great Recession (so current--can't you relate!) works the late shift at a 24 hour San Francisco bookstore.  Oddly, this is the only 24 hour bookstore in San Francisco that does not involve porn (fiction!).  The small number of customers that come in are working from "secret stacks." These books look like nonsense, unless you are into The Bible Code.  That was a really hot book in like 1996.  It turns out its all about a secret society involving fonts. Ok, I kind of like fonts, I'll give him that. 

Robin Sloan is not a good writer.  Sorry dude, you may be a fantastic tweeter, but a novel is not a simple matter of 140 characters.  Unless you are George R.R. Martin and those characters are not so simple.  This book reads like it was sponsored by Google.  There is lot of time devoted to Google and how awesome it is!  It feels like one big ad for Google.  I DO NOT LIKE THAT. That is the last thing I want in a novel, commercials.  Unless that commercial is for something in Diagon Alley and that item is something like butterbeer. 

There are a lot of geeky things in this book.  But something doesn't feel right, in Ready Player One, you could feel the love from the geek trivia, really feel it.  I suspect Robin Sloan probably is a tech geek but there is something "fake-geek-hot-chick-with-glasses-that-don't-really-have-glass-in-them-geek" about it. Its icky.  

Drinks:  The characters drink something called the Blue Screen of Death. (Get it?!)  I have never tried it but it doesn't sound too awful. 3/4 oz. vodka and 1/2 oz tequila with several dashes of Blue Curacao liquor shaken with ice. Sounds strong, but if anyone tries it, let me know.  I will try it myself, but Blue Curacao is not something I have just sitting around.

Also, I think this would be fun to try because its set in San Francisco.  San Francisco Cocktail: 1oz sloe gin, 1 oz sweet vermouth, 1 oz. dry vermouth, dash of orange bitters, dash of aromatic bitters.  Shaken with ice, garnish with a cherry. Dang, I need some ingredients for this one too. Well, at least this blog isn't sponsored by Bacardi and I spend my whole review talking about how awesome it is.



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell

How can you make a novel about a magical world tedious?  Well, make it 1000+ pages, check.  Footnotes, that add nothing, check. I resisted this book for years.  Originally published in 2004, at that time I was working at a bookstore and the hype surrounding this first time novel was ape-shit.  That is not always a good thing.  Also, it had a ringing endorsement from a fellow bookseller that has questionable taste. Very questionable taste.  My instincts were right.  It was over-publicized and the taste is still very questionable.

Set in early 1800's England, magic is not a fictional construct but a part of the history of Great Britain.  A gentleman could "study" magic, but no gentlemen "practised" magic anymore.  That is until one rich jackass does, then another rich jackass does.  At first they get along, then they don't.  Also, fairies are the ultimate jackasses, but you knew that already. I know what you are thinking, fairies...then there will be sexy vampires.  No, in this book the closest you get to a vampire is an alcoholic bum that lives under a bush. 

It took Susanna Clarke ten years to write this book.  She wrote it in her spare time. You would think it would have more passion after editing cookbooks all day. It feels more like trying to make a sourdough starter using wild yeast. Yeah, lets let it sit out for a month and hope random floating crap in the air will make it interesting. Also, it has some of the WORST illustrations I have ever seen. Keep in mind, I went to a state university art school. I saw hungover Goth kids draw something 15 minutes before the critique that looked better than these. 

Illustrations aside, this is not a terrible fantasy book, but not worth the hype.  Apparently it is currently in production for a seven episode series on BBC and it could be kick-ass so I'm keeping an open mind. 

As for a drink pairing, this book, if nothing, is a glimpse into the class hierarchies in England in the early 1800's.  So your choice of drink while reading this might say something about your social strata. 

In this time period, high class ladies and gentlemen might drink Claret, which is the British word for a Bordeaux.  If you are lower class, you drink gin.  This is particularly true if you have no major issues about living under the local shrubbery.  I like both.  Screw the hierarchies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Clockwork Orange

Alright I cheated. This is not the cover of the version I read.  This is the German translation, but c'mon, this cover is awesome.

I'm sure you are aware of this dystopian, satirical, thought-provoking novel. Set in the future, under a kind quasi-Stalinistic England, roving gangs of ruffians inflict violence narrating in their own odd slang.

I also think you already know what happens to our sociopathic narrator as the book and movie infiltrated popular culture completely.  Yes, Alex's prison number is quietly referenced in Ready Player One.  Inside nerd joke. That is not a joke about the inside of a nerd, but that sounds like a good start to a joke if you ask me. The punchline involves half-digested Magic the Gathering game cards.

This book is the literary equivalent of a supersaturated solution full of provocative "big questions."  Normally that would tick me off, as I despise any story with ham-fisted manipulation (which sounds delicious).  For example, I despised that movie Crash.  I hated the Kite RunnerClockwork Orange is much more subtle, and raises more questions than answers.  I does lose minor points for difficult-to-read heavy dialect.  You may want a decoder.  Apparently many are available on the interwebs. 

According to said interwebs, the dialect is loosely based on Russian.  An appropriate drink would be a White Russian.  It is also appropriate because the characters drink a lot of "spiked milk."

White Russians are easy to make and even easier to drink.  There are variations, but the ratio is roughly 2 parts vodka, 1 part Kahlua and one part light cream or half and half. Serve over ice.  I highly recommend drinking it in a small glass.  It does not taste like a full-blown cocktail.  IT IS.  Do not under any circumstances drink it out of a full sized tumbler or full mason jar.  Together, we'll promise not to do this (in the future) and we'll call it the Warsaw Pact.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Night Circus

I could recommend this book to you and you may still hate it.  It may shake your faith in my reasoning, discerning taste and my book knowledge. You should know that I read this book at a time in my life when I needed to go to a magic circus world for a little bit.  You may not need to go to magic circus, you may be well adjusted and want some Jonathan Franzen in your life. This is not Franzen, Pynchon or even Chabon.  This is Harry Potter for adults.  Are you ok with that? 

Erin Morgenstern is a visual artist and a young Smith College graduate.  She wanted to write a best selling novel? Why the hell not. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!!!  She admits her first submitted manuscript was a hot mess and they made her rewrite the whole thing.  I still suspect even with the rewrite her editor felt like he or she was bench pressing free-weights on Jupiter. Some think it needed another rewrite. It was obvious the publisher saw the raw material for what it was (Harry Potter for adults--YE$!) 

This is the story of dueling magicians. There is no way to avoid comparisons to The Prestige written by Christopher Priest and made into a movie starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.  A fun game to play is to ask people who is hotter, Jackman or Bale. I was at a table with about six straight guys and the overwhelming answer was Christian Bale.  They were vehement about it.  The answer was definitive and swift.  It was clear they had really thought about it and more than once.  But I digress, this book features a man and a woman who must duel....to the death. The magicians are trained by two sick bastards as a long standing bet.  Those bastards remind me of the Dukes in Trading Places.

Do you remember my snacking theory from my review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter? This book has the most amazing snacks featuring: hot chocolate, warm cider, cinnamon pastries, drizzled popcorn and ten course dinners.  Clearly this was written by someone amidst the throes of PMS. I was ok with it...very ok. 

Morgenstern creates a beautiful setting with her background as an visual artist.  Despite its flaws I liked it.  One trusted friend thought she couldn't quite pull it together. I, however, needed a delicious, beautiful world to live in for 387 pages so I enjoyed it.

If you read this in the fall I would drink some mulled cider.  Any other time, drink with any Bells beer because they are consistently good and no one can argue their talent and craft. Drink a Bells with Christian Bale. Apparently everyone can get on board with that....and I mean everyone.     

Monday, April 22, 2013

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

I had a minor existential crisis after reading this book.  Of course, I have at least one existential crisis every week.  How can I not like a book with rave reviews?  Well, its because this book is just not right for me.  I should have known reading the book's description.  An atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi....(oh no.) Two men who once called each other friends must confront the past they have buried for decades. (ugh.)  Now, I would have been on board with a book description like this:  Two men who once called each other friends must confront the past hidden dragon eggs they have buried for decades.

The existential crisis involved asking myself, "Am I a snob?" The answer is probably.  However, I will submit to you, gentle reader, that I loved that movie Winter's Bone. Those people were very poor, very rednecky and had enough Appalachian drama for three movies.  I think the difference was the protagonist was feisty and tough (and she looked super hot in an Oscar dress.)   

The characters in Crooked Letter are not as poor as in those in Winter's Bone, but they are kind of pathetic.  Everything is kind of sad.  The situations are sad, the people are sad and most importantly the food is sad.  Almost all works of fiction include some meals and/or snacking. It really sets a mood.  Here, Silas, the town cop, eats two greasy hot dogs he got from the diner which he carried around in a paper sack.  How is this even possible?  I did not think hot dogs were even portable!  How would the bag not be destroyed by the grease?  I do not know--but I refuse to google "two hot dogs in a sack"  because I'm very afraid of the results. 

Tom Franklin is a fine writer and I really wish him continued success.  I read this book because I wanted to participate in an online book club and this was their pick.  I should have remembered that I am insanely picky and weird.  I have never been what someone call "normal." I still submit that I am not a snob.  But "the lady doth protest too much methinks." Wait, that's fancy Shakespeare talk. I am getting too big for my britches. 

Drinks: Someone recently gave me a whole bottle of Jack Daniels and I didn't know what to do with it.  I asked my local expert and he recommended an Old Fashioned.
Here we go:  Dissolve a lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey glass and add two dashes of Angostura bitters.  Then add a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon peel and one jigger of whiskey.  Mix with a bar spoon.  It was pretty good.  I can't help wondering, maybe fancier whiskey? Dammit! I am a snob. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

To the Lighthouse

This book is considered one of the 100 Best Books of all Time compiled by the Norwegian Book Club.  This only makes sense if there are 128 books in Norway.  Hating a classic like this makes you feel like a cretin.  I would like to think that using the word cretin somehow makes me less of a cretin but that logic falls dangerously close to the Don King Exquisite Vernacular School of Sounding Awesome.

Stream of consciousness books are hard to read.  Its like when  your really cool friend wants to tell you his dream. Yeah, I like you, but no.  I wasn't there, it didn't happen and the way you are telling me that a dragon trying to scorch you as you were flying with Scarlet Johansson is just not working for me. 

To the Lighthouse, written by Virginia Woolf, who notoriously killed herself in kind of a cool way, has no dragons.  None.  Sure she wrote with an innovative technique, sure she captured the interior thoughts of a very dysfunctional family, but it still sucks to read. 

If you must know, the book is about a well-known philosopher father who is a straight up narcissist and his beautiful, co-dependant, busybody narcissistic mother.  They have eight kids.  Now this is where the fiction begins, I grew up the youngest of seven, I NEVER got to read a book alone with my mother and my parents never had a conversation alone between the hours of six a.m. and eleven p.m..  My family's dialog was: Dad: "Whose shoes are these? Pick up these damn things!"  Mom: "Your Dad is pulling in the driveway, clear a path through those Legos so he doesn't trip."  No interior dialogs and no exchanges with triple meanings.

One thing that is interesting about this book is that even though we learn the innermost thoughts of the mother, probably over 100 pages of her mind, minutia, and neurosis, she is summarily killed by a simple parenthetical.  Yes, beware of the parenthetical, because in this book that is where people go to die. 
(Help! I'm being suffocated by this closed parenthetical; Give me a dangling participle as a rope!...glug...glug...glug...dead.) 

Drinks: The good news is that it is set in Scotland. So drink with Scotch.  I like single malt. This is like saying you like diamonds.  Glenlivet's Nadurra is delicious and I like Balvenie too.  There is a whole lot of other Scotch that people have given me to taste but the names sound similar and I get confused.  I know just enough to know that I would read a book called To the Speyside.   

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ready Player One

What if it turns out that all of those hours of playing Atari, watching 80's movies and playing D&D could save the world?  Your Mom yelled at you.  She said, "Get outside, without Vitamin D absorption you'll get rickets!"  You said, "Just one more game!"  Well, the debilitating rickets is finally paying off because the more geeky 80's knowledge you have, the more you will love this book.  I loved it, therefore the logical conclusion is that I must be a geek, at least on some level.  I'm sure you are all shocked.

Ready Player One is set in 2044. Yes, things look a little bleak for most of us then, but we have an online virtual reality presence called OASIS. Kind of like Real Life meets the World of Warcraft.  The original creator dies and leaves his vast fortune to whomever can find all of the Easter Eggs in the program which are based on 80's trivia.  If you were born between 1968 and 1980 you will especially love this book.  Or, you were born outside those years but immediately know the difference between Asteroids and Defender, you'll be fine.  If you do not know what I am referencing when I mention D&D, you may want to pick up The Help, people say they like it.

Is this well written?  Not particularly, but who cares.  Earnest Cline is a true fanboy grown up.  In fact he wrote a screenplay called Fanboys.  Write what you know.  I do want to put a word of caution about 80's nostalgia, I think its always good to keep in mind that decade had its share of problems too.  For every Duran Duran there was a Milli Vanilli.  Sure Miami Vice was cool but Small Wonder was a sack of poop.  And for some reason I never saw Manimal but that seems like something I would have liked.

It would seem natural to enjoy this with a drink popular in the 80's.  Why, oh why, were they so sweet?  Did Sex on the Beach go well with cocaine?  I drank wine coolers which were not any better.  Yep, totally underage.  I think all the boys wanted to know which would win, my Catholic school knowledge of St. Francis or Saints Bartles & James.  Both involved genuflecting a lot.  I just worshiped B&J when tying to step off curbs for some reason.

If you want to op out of the B-52's and the Mudslides, keep in mind that this book is set in the future.  So you could make a futuristic cocktail of your own creation.  I think it should be a natural extension of current drink trends.  Maybe bacon-infused spirits from rye mash served in a slightly charred corn cob.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ragtime

Remember when Teddy Roosevelt was President? What about that "fatty" William Howard Taft?  Of course, he was from Cincinnati.  One man in a long line of distinguished fat Cincinnatians.  Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow set in 1906, seamlessly blends fictional characters and historical figures.  Houdini, J.P.Morgan and Evelyn Nesbit are real people and apparently also bat-shit crazy.  I only looked up Evelyn Nesbit's story because it is a significant plot point.  Her real story is even crazier, yes, he toned it down for the book.  Anyway, if you like your historical fiction a little lascivious, slightly violent, with a smattering of revolutionary politics, you'll enjoy this.

They made a Ragtime movie which was on HBO when I was a kid.  I think it was inappropriate for children because I remember full frontal nudity. I haven't seen it lately but that seems like something you would remember, especially when you have older brothers.  Guess who showed her "business?" Why, it was a young Elizabeth McGovern.  Yes, the Countess of Grantham.  I would love to incorporate Maggie Smith and Downton Abbey into that scene. Maggie would say dryly, "A bit early to bring out the crumpets for tea, isn't it?" (raised eyebrow)  Or, "Its nice to see that the estate has taken the effort to match the carpet with the drapes, its so rare to find that these days."

There is a reason this is a "classic." You should be warned that everyone acknowledges that the ending is kind of crappy compared to the first three quarters of the book, which are pretty awesome.

I asked an expert on what would be a popular drink during this time period and he said the Bronx Cocktail. Take 1/3 Plymouth Gin, 1/3 French Vermouth, 1/3 Italian Vermouth, flavored with two dashes of orange bitters, a barspoon full of orange juice and a squeeze of orange peel.  Shake well with cracked ice, strain and serve.

Oh, and guess where E.L. Doctorow is from.  The Bronx.  Mind. Blown.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo

At the end of 1,200 pages Alexander Dumas manages to tie up every loose end in this complicated revenge story.  Are you paying attention George R. R. Martin?  Yeah, and he wrote it in 1844.  ALL THE LOOSE ENDS.  Here is the plot in one sentence: Edmond, a sailor, gets wrongfully imprisoned, escapes, becomes filthy rich and enacts revenge on all those who put him in prison. Stick that in your SparkNotes.

After his daring prison escape, Edmond learns about 20 languages and somehow acquires every fact in the world except how to get a decent tan.  When you read the book it appears that his ten years after the escape are all done in furtherance of his revenge plot.  But when you think of it, he would have bought secret lady-slaves, hire a giant mute servant who had his tongue cut out, become a master of disguise and learn to be an expert fencer and marksman anyway.  We all would.  He is filthy rich, doesn't sleep much, is always busy, knows everything and was in prison.  In other words, the Martha Stewart of 19th century Europe.  

The book is old and still awesome.  I think writers have been inadvertently and purposefully ripping off the characters and themes of this book for 150 years.  For example, the grandfather Nortier cannot move or communicate except by a series of blinks.  If that is not Breaking Bad's Hector "Tio" Salmanaca and his damn bell I'll eat my hat.

Drink with Henry IV Cognac.  It costs $2,000,000 a bottle.  The Count would drink nothing less.      

Friday, February 15, 2013

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

Oh Patton Oswalt, why did this have to happen.  I am going to blame your publisher.  But you need to take some responsibility for your name being sullied. Why did you not insist on someone editing your notebooks? You clearly had at least three slim notebooks, one memoir, one of comedic bits and one stream of consciousness.  A publisher approached you and said, "Hey you're so hot (culturally) right now why don't we publish a book?" Sure, you said, "I already have some material I've been collecting for the last 15 years." "Great! Here's your check."  The end.

I still love Patton Oswalt, I love his stand-up work and I'll always love that he made a wonderfully obscure Werner Herzog reference on NPR.  I even think he's a decent actor.  This...was not so hot.  It lacked execution.  It is the literary equivalent of that Nordic Track that you dry your track jackets on in the basement.  The memoir part is about growing up geeky outside D.C. The main take-away is that he missed all these great Black Flag shows because he grew up in the burgs and watched Star Wars.  The Star Wars-burgs bits are your entire career!  We can't relate to the Black Flag kids, they made fun of us remember?  With no transition, this book also consists of odd comedic bits.  Please refer to John Hodgman if you ever think about doing that crap again.  1000 hobo names takes a lot of work.  That's why its so funny.  I am positive you work much harder on your stand-up.  Go back to kissing Cherlize Theron in movies.

While I don't recommend this book, for drinks, pick something equally lame and without substance like a Zima.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Watership Down

"I'm pretty sure all the bunnies die." This is what my husband said to me when he saw me reading this book. But I knew he never read this book and he was guessing.  I must admit thinking that you are going into a Lars Von Trier dismal abyss will make this book much more exciting to read.  And yes, some bunnies die, but not all of them.

Watership Down is an anthropomorphized adventure story about a small group of rabbits looking for a new warren.  They are not completely humanoid because they do not wear top hats.  For some reason, top hats are my benchmark for a sophisticated animal.  Even top hat-less the rabbits' conversations are awfully sophisticated.  I'm pretty sure if you could understand what rabbits talked about, it would be: "Now, is that poop or food?" Or, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT NOISE?" (*Stands perfectly still for 90 minutes*)

This was the first selection of my very tiny book club and my friend brought over chocolate covered peanuts.  She said, "This is hraka." That it lapine language for poop.  A fun game is to tell everyone what rabbit you are most like.  Then they tell you what rabbit they think you are are.  Trust me, you will pick the smarter more clever version of yourself and your friends will pick the less flattering kind-of-jerk bunny.  We all have to eat hraka sometime.

This book is very British and evokes the first signs of spring.  I recommend a Pimm's Cup. The bunny in you will enjoy the slice of cucumber.  The alcoholic in you will enjoy the gin.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Rook

People foolishly ask, what can you do with a Master's Degree in Medieval History from The Ohio State University?  You write a kick-ass debut fantasy book, that's what. Take one part Memento, one part X-Men and add lots of Britishness for good measure.  The main character, Myfawny, which must be a Welsh name, because that's just nuts, either has amnesia or has recently replaced her entire body.  In this book, either of those two things could happen.  She works as a "rook" for "her majesty's supernatural secret service." Rook refers to her rank, think chess pieces, not giant bird.  In this book, turning into a giant bird would be relatively normal. 

Myfawny's special powers have to do with her ability to mess people up when she touches them.  But her real power comes from her ability to do paperwork and statistics efficiently.  Seriously, this is her special power.  O'Malley probably thinks this is magic because all of us involved in the humanties suck at math and if you are good at it, well clearly that's because of magic.

Daniel O'Malley's day job is writing press releases regarding plane crash investigations for the Australian government.  After reading this book, I am thinking those must be fun to read.  It says here the plane went down because a self-aware blob caused it to crash.  Then his boss shakes his fist and says "O'Malley you've done it again!" (He smirks....then freeze frame). 

Drinks: Because this book involves possible memory loss, I highly recommend an Absinthe cocktail.  One of my favorites is a Sazerac. At least I think I remember liking it... Here's a recipe:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/ABSINTHE-SAZERAC-350802