Friday, December 26, 2014

Middlesex

So you want to write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel?  First, you should know that you only get ten grand, which really isn't all that much, in fact, it seems kind of lame.  Second, there are some motifs you really need to cover.  Now if you don't know what a motif is, you are already doomed, so don't even bother.  Anyway, if you do know what a motif is, you will need at least three of the following: a coming of age story, the immigrant experience, a multi-generational tale, the novel should be relatively large, the protagonist should have to go through some serious difficulties (especially as a child), your main character should also belong to some ethnic or religious minority group and suffer some kind of lasting ennui.  Got it?  Just sit down and write it.  Oh, by the way, it will take about 4 years and but then $10,000 will be all yours. That's $2,500 a year---moneybags.

Middlesex, which won in 2003, has a lot of these.  It's like Eugenides had some kind of bet going, just how many of these motifs can I fit in one novel?  The answer is most of them.  It think there should be some kind of writer's grab bag.  Like your friend lists some things, then you reach into the bag and you have to create a novel using all them. "Hey, I got zebras, hepatitis and Vichy France!" "I got elephantitis, religious persecution and Eskimos!"  I'm telling you, it would cure your writer's block and make a for a good movie.  Because, obviously, winning the Pulitzer Prize is for chumps.

Middlesex is a fine novel but beefy and sweeping.  That sounds like a janitor that bodybuilds on the side. Be warned, while it's just over 500 pages it reads like a 800 pluser.  If you don't mind that Eugenides got Intersexuals, Incest and Detroit in his grab bag, then read it if you haven't already. 

Ok, this is about a Greek family so it seemed appropriate to have a Greek cocktail, but frankly ouzo scares me a little.  Maybe I've never had the good stuff.  My policy is there are no bad liquors only bad quality liquors.  Anyway, try this one (which is like a Greek mudslide): Greek Cafe: 1 part Creme de Cacao, 1 part Kaluha, 1 part Frangelico and 1 part Metaxa.  Combine ingredients and shake with ice.  You can serve in a shooter or small cordial glass.  What is Mextaxa, you ask?  It is a brandy-based Greek spirit. (it gets a tiny shout-out in this book).  No Mextaxa?  Apparently you can substitute brandy with a little bit of bourbon....now, that kind of takes the Greek out of it, just like the 1988 presidential election. Zing!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Slow Regard of Silent Things


If you put people on pedestals, you could be looking at a whole lot of nose hairs.  Patrick Rothfuss even wrote a disclaimer as a forward to this book, which warned us that you might not want to read it. (FYI it has no plot).  The reviews on Goodreads are kind of intense; they range all over the place from gushing to crushing. Some fans are so angry that he's messing around with this little novella when he should be finishing his Kingkiller Chronicle series.  I'm like, has George R.R. Martin taught you nothing?  Just deal with it.  I mean, learn to bake bread, improve your push-ups and if that's too much effort, at least order some sea monkeys. Just take it down about 20 notches.

He is right; you may not want to read it.  This is a quirky little book about a semi-feral woman that lives in the catacombs of the magic university, an important place in the Kingkiller Chronicle series.  Auri, who is either a simpleton or has child-like qualities, has some "mental problems" that seem "fun" now because she's young and cute but once she gets older she'll be sent to an institution.  Let's face it, this chick has a bad case of OCD, a possible eating disorder and attributes sentient feelings to inanimate objects. How fun is she! 

Even if you are a fan of his series, I would skip this.  It really is just a glimpse into the life a minor, but mentally unstable, character.  Think of this as a fantasy version of reality TV (with less alcohol, boobs and cat fights--in fact it has none of these--she does have a fight with a blanket--seriously, a blanket).  Anyway, getting this story out of Rothfuss' system will probably make the last book better. That book is apparently in the editing stage.  That being said, I would like to read the last book in my lifetime. (*bakes bread*...*doing push-ups*) 

Whether you read this of not it's Christmastime and chilly so read this while drinking Hot Milk Punch: 1 oz. dark rum, 1 oz. brandy, 1 tsp superfine sugar.  Stir well then pour into a mug very hot milk add a whisper of nutmeg.  Pass out.  


Monday, December 15, 2014

Authority

I cannot imagine having a new boss that said, "Well, even though my real name is John, I want you all to call me Control." I would think, great, there is no scenario where this is going to be good.  Like, can I even joke with him about this?  No, you cannot, because Control is the director of a super secret agency called the Southern Reach, which is an agency inside the super secret government.  Heads of super secret agencies do not get irony or kitschy humor.  They do not have plush vampire bats on their desks or give out Mexican jumping beans to visitors.  Of course, I would say, "What's your middle name, Tool?" (But I wouldn't say it to his face because c'mon, super secret government benefits.  I would probably start a super secret twitter account called The Control Panel).

Authority is the second in the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.  I didn't like this one nearly as much as the first book. Much of it is Control trying to second guess why each character said what and which ones are trying to stab him in the back.  Hey, Vandermeer, this is fantasy, not reliving my junior high experience.  Here's hoping the last book in the series is more like the first ( maybe even better?) Fingers crossed. 

Apparently when people come back from Area X, their memory is a bit...off.  Why not drink with a Brain Duster? 1 ounce rye whiskey, 1 ounce absinthe, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, 1 dash Angostura bitters.  Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  This looks so good, it seems worth it to get a little scribble-scrabble.      

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Book of Life

You got peanut butter in my chocolate!  No, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!  Wait, they taste great together!  This is the main premise of this book.  Of course, replace peanut butter with "witches" and chocolate with "vampires." Now if I recall, the original Reece's Cup commercial has a person walking down the street holding a chocolate bar colliding with someone walking down the street with an open jar of peanut butter.  Who does that? La..di..da…walking in the street with an open peanut butter jar and spoon.  Sicko.

Anyway, if you liked the first two books, you'll be happy this one wraps up the whole series.  It is very plot heavy and there is some kind of crisis going on the whole time.  Our main character, the witch Diana, still has her familiar, a firedrake named Corra.  I don't think people in this book are reacting correctly to seeing a miniature dragon hanging out in the light fixture. Even if  you are a witch or vampire I think you would hear, WHAT IS THAT? Oh, and it can burst out of her body and get subsumed by her body too. I would have to say something along the lines of : "Um, did you just have a miniature dragon burst out of your torso?"

It turns out the familiar is not the only thing that she keeps in her body, by the end of the book her body is more like Carrot Top's prop trunk than anything else.  Crisis crisis crisis, it turns out she is the witch of the millennium, the one we have all been waiting for, the vampire still loves her, the end.  Actually, its not a bad read if you don't mind a little junk food, which is appropriate considering Reece's Cups are my favorite junk food.

Deborah Harkness still loves her wine so her vampires love wine too.  They are rich so they can afford Chateau Lafite and wines that cost more than my car (considering my car is 15 years old--you probably have wine that costs more than my car).  Anyway, drink with a nice Claret or dark wine like a Burgundy.  With a miniature dragon at your feet, of course.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Annihilation

If you are ever reading a weird sci-fi, fantasy/dystopian novel that makes an allusion to sentient plants do not, do not, try to make dinner by cutting a squash.  That thing was both stronger and smarter than me.  First of all, the skin was like Kevlar, I mean how sharp of knife do I need?   Second, I couldn't get my knife through the thing; I was banging the squash like a bludgeon against the kitchen counter.  I'm pretty sure it was laughing at me.  Hey squash, next time you're getting poked all over and burned alive, jerk.

Annihilation is the first in a series of The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer.  Our narrator is a woman on a mission to Area X and only known as "the biologist."  (In our world we refer to them as smart-people-who-don't-get paid-enough-for-their-education-people.)  Area X is a government controlled place where all kinds of freaky and scary things happen.  Think Island of Dr. Moreau meets Lovecraft with some Lost and every nerdy iteration of what can happen in an Eden-like environment.  It's a super tiny book, and a part of a three part series.  They go so fast I could read the next two in the time I can sew on a button.  Considering that my "to be mended" pile ends up in the "Hey, I should really do that but I'll probably never see that thing again" pile, I think that's likely....very likely. 

Why not drink with an Eden Cocktail?  There are a number of Eden-like or "garden of Eden" cocktail recipes that sound really gross.  Eden is supposed to be idyllic, what God would allow a cocktail with both Peach Schnapps and Mountain Dew in one drink?  Not even a Deuteronomy "you've been bad" type God would allow that.  This one sounds much better:  2 oz. of good vodka, 1/2 oz St. Germain, 1&1/2 oz. pressed apple juice (apple--get it?--also, I think apple cider would work just fine).  Put these ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake and strain into a taller glass.  Top with tonic water and then garnish with an orange zest twist. 


Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Tale for the Time Being

What is going on Japan? I mean, I know living on an island makes for some weird culture, England has its mastery of fart jokes, Iceland has Bjork and Australia has hideous, hideous boots. C'mon Japan, why are all your female characters in distress?  Is this like, a thing? I guess it is because Tale of Genji was published about 1000 years ago. I noticed Japan likes cats on the internet--can the next 1000 years ring in a Japanese internet cat millennium instead? (I think it's started).

A Tale for Time Being is a frame story about one character, an author named Ruth (whose life seems just like the real author named Ruth, except a slightly more boring version), who finds a Japanese girl's dairy washed up on the beach on a small Canadian island in the Pacific. Our Japanese girl, Nao, wrote a diary that is interesting but disturbing. She's a suicidal victim of extreme bullying (and other tragedies).  Ruth Ozeki is a Canadian-American author who lived in Japan for a while. She picked up some Murakami style weirdness while she was there.  There is less spaghetti cooking in this book. There is beer and coffee drinking though, so partial credit.

This book has a lot of different stuff, Zen Buddhist nuns, kamikaze pilots, Alzheimer's, the 2011 tsunami, dream traveling, quantum physics, multiple universes and some clam digging. Clam digging is not a euphemism, real clam digging. I picked this for my book club, the subject matter may make the discussion more serious than I anticipated.  My hope is that when you have a situation (or person) that is a comedy black hole, sometimes, just sometimes, you get a gamma ray burst of hilarity.  Fingers crossed.

At the risk of being a bit "on-the-nose" why not drink with a Japanese Cocktail?  Seriously, there is a classic cocktail with that name (it's from a famous olden times cocktail book) it does sound pretty yummy:  2 ounces brandy, 1/2 ounce orgeat, 2 dashes Angostura bitters.  Stir with ice, strain and garnish with a lemon twist.  What the heck is orgeat you ask?  It's an fancy almond syrup.  It can be hard to find a decent version but its one of those things you can make on your own.  Serious eats has a recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

At the Mountains of Madness

It's that time of year, and in years past, before the advent what I can only call the collective pumpkin derangement that is now October, people used to read scary stories.  While "horror" is not my favorite genre, pretty much every fantasy writer is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft.  I mean, they are pumpkin latte for him. 

Even though he was an early "horror" author keep in mind that this is from the olden times so you'll get statements like...the sight disturbed my countenance. (It wasn't exactly a page turner).  I don't want to talk too much about this short novella because suspense and horror are subject to spoilers.  Granted, you have had 78 years, but still....  I will say that even before I read this I knew that Lovecraft = monsters and you knew that too.  My problem is that I imagine all monsters like Zoidberg from Futurama. For instance, at one point in this book, I thought about the scene when Zoidberg is getting autopsied in Roswell and he says:  "The president is gagging on my gas bladder, what an honor!"  I think I'm doing horror wrong.

Don't go on wikipedia and look at H.P. Lovecraft's biography because it's kind of depressing.  (You should look at Zoidberg's wikipedia page because it is amazing).  Lovecraft died fairly young, broke and unknown.  Obviously people love him now but it is so tempting when people post those crappy platitudes on social media that say FOLLOW YOUR BLISS to just post YOU MAY NEED A DAY JOB FOR A FEW YEARS and then post a link to his biography. Maybe I should just post a picture of Zoidberg. He did go to medical school. 

To heck with pumpkin--this is whisky season-- so why not read this book with a Horsecar.  1 ounce rye, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, 1 ounce dry vermouth, 2 dashes orange bitters. Put in an ice filled glass, stir and strain.  Garish with a maraschino cherry. Let's face it, this is going to taste a lot like a Manhattan but I say, follow your bliss. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seraphina

Dragons! They're people too! Wait, no they aren't.  Well, in this book they kind of are. What?  In Seraphina, dragons can take human form. I would think a "tell" would be dragon breath.  Here, humans and dragons are under a "truce" where dragons have vowed not to bite humans heads off.  I'm not sure what's in it for the dragons.  Frankly, doesn't the ability to fly and bite your head off mid-flight trump any "power" humans might have? Not to mention breathing fire and destroying your village. Because really, what's left to negotiate?  

This book is more about dragon racism, dragon rights and court politics more than anything else.  I think this is missing the point about dragons!!  I mean they are magical and vicious beasts!  It's like dealing with Senator Palpatine scenes in Star Wars.  All I want is to see is Yoda saying something cool, using a light saber and kicking butt.  I mean, c'mon!

This second half of this book is much better than the first.  At least the dragons do some dragon things.  I'm so weird that I can totally believe in a world where dragons take human form but I cannot believe our protagonist, a court musician, can speak her mind to the royal family at every opportunity and not be killed....or at least fired. That's the most unrealistic part of this fantasy.  You never call the princess' finance a bastard, even if he is one, and live to tell the tale.

In this book the dragons don't drink alcohol--is that because it's flammable or because they are nerds?  It's not really explained but in my universe dragons are never nerds.  They should be fierce like Sid Vicious or Beyonce. The Blue Dragon cocktail seems a bit misleading because this is going to look blue but taste very orangey.  2 ounces Mandarin vodka and 1 ounce Blue Curacao liqueur, pour into a cocktail shaker, shake and strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange slice and cherries. The cherries can be the dragon's eyes.       

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Devil in the White City

I think a good name for an Office spin off would be The Weevil in the Dwight City.  Those TV developers better get cracking.  If there is anything I've learned after reading this book is that society has a really short memory. The 1893 Chicago World's Fair was a huge deal but I barely knew anything about it.  Maybe they had a giant Ferris Wheel?  Serial killer of the same time?  Never heard of him.  I think this phenomenon is getting even shorter.  Ten years from now, no one will remember Edward Snowden at all, he'll just be quietly crying in his borscht.

This was Erik Larson's big break and if I was in publishing during the early 2000's I would not have predicted a non-fiction book about superstar architects would be a national best-seller.  Ok, admittedly it is also about the country's first serial killer.  On the internets you can look at pictures of the fair and it looks amazing.  I don't think he does it justice as far as the scale and majesty. Electricity was new, I can't imagine what a whole huge artificial city would have looked like lit up at night.  I think it would blow my mind now...back then...destroyed.  I wonder if they had an on-site sanitarium. 

Leonardo Di Caprio bought the film rights and the movie is currently in development.  I think he likes to play any roles from the olden times where he gets to slick his hair back and wear suspenders.  I see major suspender potential in this... and big walrus mustaches and hats...maybe canes too. Ohh, I can see Leo playing Edward Snowden in a movie because Snowden has grown a big walrus mustache (I'll bet he has--I know I would). 

Drinks: The main architect has an on-site "shanty" which had a big fireplace where he would have a little drinky-poo and smoke a cigar after working all day. It sounds kind of awesome. It is getting a bit "crisp" out, so why not drink a warm drink with this book.  Honey Pot Cider:  1 1/4 cup apple cider, 1 Tbsp. honey, 1 3/4 ounces apple jack brandy.  Heat the ingredients in a small saucepan for about 5 minutes.  Put in a mug with 2 apple slices speared with a cinnamon stick and then rest the stick on the mug. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oryx & Crake

I caught up on some reading while suffering from food poisoning.  Why let those tainted mussels win, right?  (They kind of won a little bit).  There is nothing like a dystopian novel to make you feel better.  Hey, you may feel terrible but at least you don't have a virulent bacterial infection that will kill you, you just suspect you might. 

Oryx and Crake was the first in a trilogy by Margaret Atwood, who is awesome at all of her various genres. It's not fun-times for our narrator, although he is a kind of dipstick. Of course it is well written an interesting as you would expect nothing less from her. The trilogy is finished and this first book was written ten years ago so it is not fair to make fun of people in the future watching CD-ROMS. It does seem so stupid now. Maybe they make a comeback like vinyl records.

I know that dystopian novels are supposed to be depressing and a kind of wake up call to mend our wicked ways but why can't they have a bright side?  Why can't we solve global warming by having cute bikes or riding tricked out cable cars, have condos on the moon, nanobots that kill cancer and eat carbs without consequences.  I want to live in that future.  I think authors just do not want to envision a future that is better than the one we live in now.  They think, how dare my grandchildren live better than me--SCREW THE GRANDCHILDREN--you will be eating your own poop someday! 

Our dipstick narrator likes beer--real beer-- and who doesn't?  I truly think we are living in the golden age of craft beer so go out there and find some awesome ones.  Locally I have been enjoying Rhinegeist's Zen which is an American Pale Ale (less alcohol than an IPA), but there are some fun stuff coming out of Salt Lake City--I know! (apparently it has more heathens than you think) from Uinta Brewing Co. These lighter pale ales go with food--not tainted food--not your own poop--just decent normal food.   

Friday, September 26, 2014

1984

The real 1984 wasn't like 1984.  While there were idiots wearing overalls in the real 1984, those dummies were mostly overzealous fans of Dexi's Midnight Runners.  Also, I refuse to call overalls "dungarees," Craig.  That's just crazy. 

I never read 1984 in high school, but I should have, I suppose.  That would have been a good time to read it.  Now, well…. there is no doubt that this was an incredibly important book at the time but I feel like dude, we get it.  The huge manifesto the protagonist reads to us… I got it.  That may not be fair, since Orwell wrote this, society has lived through China's Cultural Revolution, Kim Jong Il and the juggernaut that is One Direction. 

One of my favorite things about reading books from the past about the future is the predictions.  He predicted something like Siri called speakwrite but in 1984 they were at least discreet when they used it. Now Siri involves a lot of shouting: SIRI, WHERE IS THE NEAREST CHIPOTLE?  One thing Orwell didn't predict was that we would stop using the word "counterpane" for bedspread.  Or as most of us call it, "the covers." Sir, mind the counterpane! You are soiling it!

Drinks: In 1984 they drink Victory Gin which apparently is kind of nasty. Normally I don't like to suggest a drink that is so "on the nose" but I can't resist this gin based drink from my friend Rob.  The Communist: 1 oz. London Dry Gin, 1 oz. orange juice, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, 1/2 Cherry Herring.  Stir in a glass with ice, strain and serve straight up.  Apparently there is an old Czechoslovakian communist slogan that was "No Grain to Waste."  Indeed.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Last Night in Montreal

I absolutely love Montreal.  Of course I went in the summer because in the winter it is all about the Vortex Poliere.  I don't speak French but it wasn't a big deal as we only interacted with two people who couldn't speak English.  Even that wasn't a problem because when you smile, nod and hand people a wad of money, everything seems to always work out.

Last night in Montreal is partially set in Montreal. It is a "sort-of" mystery (not really) about a girl abducted by a non-custodial parent and her issues as an adult.  The plot also includes all the weirdoes that become obsessed with her. This book is ok.  I could relate to the characters  that felt cold because I work in an overly-air-conditioned-kill-the-environment-and-kill-me-while-you-are-at-kind-of-places.  I don't understand why it is 90 degrees and I can't feel my fingers.  I have not ruled out that I may be dead inside. 

The author, Emily St. John Mandel, is an adorable pixie girl who studied dance.  She is exactly the type of girl a guy would travel 14 hours on a train ride just to see one more time.  I, however, cannot get my husband to walk 14 feet to come to the kitchen to get something off a high shelf.  Usually, I am forced to climb the kitchen cabinets like some kind of spider monkey.  C'est la vie. 

Montreal has some amazing cocktail bars (Canadians + France = glug glug) and I'm pretty sure I need to go back there to do more "research."  How about a Frenchy cocktail you can sip wherever you live? (Provided you have a very well-stocked liquor cabinet)  The Lumiere: 1&1/2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce St. Germain, 3/4 ounce lime juice, 3/4 ounce Chartreuse, dash of orange bitters.   Combine the ingredients and stir with ice.  Strain into a coupe and garnish with a lime twist. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

Comedy nightmare topics in All the Light We Cannot See include a young Nazi soldier (I'm no Mel Brooks) and a young blind French girl in occupied France during WWII.  Louis C.K. could do something brilliant with that formula but he's a genius. Needless to say, this is not a comedy.

Set during the year just before and during the war, the story also includes an agoraphobic eccentric uncle and a mysterious giant diamond. It is probably the best contemporary fiction book I've read this year even though the snacks are few and far between.  The writing is excellent but not particularly flashy.  There is hope for contemporary fiction.  What is contemporary fiction?  Anything written after Benedict Cumberbatch became famous.  I realize using BC might be confusing so maybe it is best to use CE as in the Cumberbatch Era. Written in 2014, this is a fine CE4 novel.

Anthony Doerr is some sort of nature lover.  There are lot of snails, or whelks, in this book--and believe it or not--not as snacks. (I know, France!)  The Whelks sounds like a good name for a sports team.  But no one wants to be named after a snail (even if they seem well-adjusted and have a pretty shell).  Well, maybe Stanford.  Stanford doesn't even really have a mascot so they have a guy dressed as giant tree that runs around the football field.  A snail at least moves, not much, but MORE THAN TREES. 

Drinks: Brittany is known for its sparkling apple cider.  I have never had Breton cider but it comes in a fancy wine bottle ('natch) and looks delicious.  Plus I'm sure it is refreshing when your city is under siege and you are really really thirsty because you are trapped in a building that has collapsed and may or may not be on fire.    

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Weird sex stuff? Check. Mystical dimensions and vision quests? Check. Spaghetti making? Check and check.  This Murakami book, written in the mid-nineties features a vaguely nebbishy 30 year old guy named Toru and lots of sexy ladies doing sexy but sometimes creepy things.  But that is typical Murakami.  And making snacks.  In his books someone is usually making a snack or drinking coffee, or maybe a beer.  Apparently Murakami used to own a coffee shop.  If you write what you know, I think he must have also had a multi-dimensional sex shop.  I'm pretty sure it was called String Bikini Theory Sex Shoppe.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is shorter than 1Q84. I think this would be a good introduction to his work. I found it wasn't a page turner because of all the side stories but it is possible that I have surrealism burnout.  For some reason psychic prostitutes and sadistic death obsessed neighborhood girls just aren't enough for me to stay up late reading.  Maybe I just have Murakami burnout.  I totally needed to organize that closet anyway. Don't mind me, all other weirdoes (like me) like this book.  He's still an awesome writer and his philosophical and bizarre images stick with you like flying toasters, which is perfect for the mid-nineties. I found out that those flying toasters are copyrighted so THAT is why you are not seeing them everywhere. Trust me that stuff is back.  Well, not all of it.  Having an AOL email address is not back. 

Drinks: Toru likes beer.  In fact his neighborhood liquor store delivers a case of beer to his house and then bills him later.  Wow, this must be another dimension because that doesn't happen in my world.  Anyway, if you are not having a cold beer, maybe try a Pink Flamingo for a bird themed drink? Here is just one variation: 2 ounces rum, 3/4 ounce lime juice and 3 ounces good quality pink grapefruit soda.  Add the rum and lime juice to a shaker with ice shake and stain into a highball glass with ice, top with the grapefruit soda and garnish with a lime wheel or a long lime peel twist. 
 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye

What is a chiffonier?  In the olden times, like those in The Cather in the Rye, that is what they called a chest a drawers.  Ok, I don't even know how to pronounce chiffonier, much less know when it is appropriate to use that word.  Also, when things are great they used to say things are "grand." Um, no.  You say or shout "THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!" (At least that's what I say....or shout).  It makes me think that 70 years from now people won't be calling everything awesome, although I will be fine with dropping YOLO.  In fact, I will be quite comfortable getting rid of that, of course I will be dead by then ...because you really only do live once.

I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was a teenager just like our protagonist Holden (sounded like a rich kid's name then and still does). My book club picked it and while I rarely re-read books because there are more books in the world than years left in my life, it turns out I remembered almost nothing. I can't figure out if that is exciting or disturbing.  I remembered liking it, but I was worried, has my taste changed? No, I'm good...I kill me.

You've probably already read this book. One thing I noticed when I was re-reading this is that Holden, our sixteen year old semi-depressed teenager, enjoys interacting with kids because they are a refreshing tonic in a cynical world.  But what is weird is that he approaches kids in Central Park that he doesn't know and starts talking to them, even "helping" one kid on a teeter-totter.  Today, he would be arrested.  Seriously.  Helping a kid on a teeter-totter puts your hand right next to his butt.  Inappropriate.  Apparently things were more innocent in the 40's and 50's.  Things were gay.  Wait, gay means something different now.  Grand.

Drinks: Holden likes to drink cocktails even though he is underage.  One obvious one would be a Manhattan made with Rye (which is my new favorite way to drink it).  But I've given you that recipe.  So, how about another rye cocktail?  The Oriental: 1&1/2 ounces of Rye whiskey, 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth, 3/4 Cointreau, 1/2 ounce lime juice. Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a cherry. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dies the Fire

Do you want nightmares in which you are always looking for snacks? No, not your normal dreams looking for snacks, nightmares.  As in, THERE ARE NO SNACKS.  Or very very limited snacks. Like all the radishes you can eat.  Seriously, this book gave me bad dreams.  Not that it's a bad book, because it is not, but you've been warned.

Dies the Fire, which is a dumb title, is a dystopian novel in which something, or someone, killed all things that run on electricity and also guns and some explosives (which don't really run on electricity so that is weird). Dynamite doesn't work, but propane still works.  I'm not sure I get the logic, but I understand the parameter, because as I explained in my review of the dystopian novel Wool, with guns you can "obtain" a lot of missing resources.  In this one, archers and swordsman are supreme.  Hurrah!  I know how to use a sword, or at least a wooden one (well, kind of).  I'm saved (I think).

My friend Charlie recommended this book and it makes perfect sense. He likes dystopian novels and he is expert in weapons and use thereof.  He also loves REI, your one stop survival gear store, seriously you can't make any more stops because you have now run out of money.  This book makes you want to learn basic survival skills and realize that your 2 dozen powerbars you made this weekend are woefully inadequate for the Apocalypse. (Also, you have eaten them all by Tuesday for some reason).  The book is pretty good and it does move along (meaning you want to keep reading) but the many fight scenes are pretty confusing.  As much as I make fun of George R. R. Martin, that man can write a good fight scene.  In this book I felt confused, who got stabbed? Where did he get stabbed? Was he a bad guy or a bad good guy. I don't know.  I just wait for the next scene to see which character is missing a nose.

One of the main characters is Scotch-Irish and there are men and women wearing kilts.  Why not drink with a Rob Roy?  (Shhh...a Rob Roy is just a Manhattan with Scotch instead of Rye).  Rob Roy:  2 ounces decent blended Scotch whiskey, 1 ounce sweet vermouth (use a good one) 2 dashes either Angostura bitters or orange bitters.  Put all of these ingredients in highball glass with ice and stir well.  Garnish with a orange peel (twist the peel over the glass before garnishing). 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Power of Habit

Want a book that dovetails Willpower? A book that is more empowering but puts so...much...pressure on perfectionists like me? Well then, read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Do you have a bad habit?  Well you can overwrite the bad one for a good habit like a old school computer program. At least that is how I think computer programs used to be written.  I'm not sure.  Anyway, your brain knows what to do. If you change a keystone habit then all kinds of awesome stuff will come with it.  I think it's like getting free lotion with your shampoo purchase.

According to the book, once you make something a habit then your brain is free to think about all kinds of cool stuff like dragons, snacks and fun tops.  I mean, once you really learn how to drive do you really have to think about it? Heck no, just merge away with impunity. Meanwhile you are thinking about 1) that kick-ass bassline and how sweet it would be to see them in concert or 2) solar collectors in India (you are listening to NPR). 

Somewhere between science and self-help, go ahead and read this because it's not long and it's not written for scholars or the sophisticated.  You could read it on the toilet if that is your habit.  I just happen to think your habit is gross, but hey, it's your habit….lil' nasty. Also, there is stuff about  organizational habits but who cares about that--ITS ALL ABOUT ME (or you).

The irony is not lost on me that I have been working out a lot and cooking and eating healthy which is totally getting in the way of my reading and drinking.  Also, I made a challenge to myself to drink only a few drinks (less than 8) over the next 2 months.  So, I was pretty psyched when I found out that "soft cocktails" are super hot. Whew, I'm still cool. Here is a drink from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Everyday cookbook called Sparkling Spanakam (It's Indian--solar collectors not included):  1/4 natural sugar, 2 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 ground cardamon, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1/4 tsp sea salt and 1 liter of sparkling water.  Make a paste with the non-water ingredients then slowly add the water to your pitcher.  Serve with lots of ice.  I made this for book club and it was nice.  I drank 90% of it.  Of course, it is all about me.          

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Graveyard Book

If you would like to raise your child with a very healthy sense of the macabre in the tradition of Poe for Babies, ("R is for Raven") and The Berenstain Bears Show Cthulhu's Love well The Graveyard Book is for you.  I am going to go out of a limb and say that this book has been read by far more adults than by children. Why? You ask? Well it was written by Neil Gaimen (*women throwing panties*).

The Graveyard Book is about a boy being raised by ghosts and spirits in his home, the graveyard (say graveyard in a spooky voice). Beyond the dark theme, it is in some ways that classic tale of a boy who is destined to be special.  Like cosmically special.  Like people would literally die to protect you.  WE HAVE BEEN WAITING THOUSANDS OF YEARS FOR THIS BOY.  Is this the best message for children?  I mean, is it really realistic?  I guess no one would buy my "Realistic Life Series" of children's books.  Dream Weaver: The Story of Timmy, Whose Band was Pretty Good but Never Really Hit it Big.  Or, Snack Attack: The Story of Brian, Who Ate Too Many Doritos and Got Some Back Fat Which Was Really Stubborn to Lose. I guess those aren't as glamorous.  They have happy endings. Timmy sells insurance and Brian met a nice girl at the gym.  I guess kids want to read about kids with "magical powers" and "fulfilling destinies."  They are bound for a let down, I'm telling you.  We all have to clean the metaphorical litter box sometime. In my case that is also a literal litter box.     

Anyway, the book is pretty cute.  It is for kids but it's a nice light read for adults, very Gaimeny if that is a word. Spellcheck doesn't think so but it doesn't recognize Cthulhu either. Jerks. 

Drinks: I know cocktails are not appropriate for children (I guess). But they are appropriate for women about to, or in the act of, throwing panties. Why not a spooky themed one? Now, last August I gave you the recipe for Corpse Reviver #2, which is the most popular Corpse Reviver (there are a lot of them).  Here is another variation:  1&1/2 ounces of brandy, 3/4 ounce Calvados or other apple brandy, 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.  Put in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake and strain.  As a side note, I recently bought a brand of sweet vermouth called Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and it is amazing. Wow. Dear Cocchi people, send me some bottles please, I've got a powerful case of the Cocchis.     

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Moon Over Soho

When you have a detective novel that has magical elements, you have so many options for wiener jokes. I mean, expandable batons, magic wands, wizard's staff...the list goes on and on.  Moon Over Soho is Ben Aaronovitch's novel about a young London policeman who has some magical powers and this book has plenty of jokes.  Some of his jokes fall on deaf ears because I have no idea what he is talking about. While we speak the same language, let's face it, British slang is different.  If we would ask an American and Brit to point to their respective "fannies"....well, you would get different results.  Very different results. One might punch you in the face. 

Moon over Soho is a sequel to Midnight Riot, the first in the Peter Grant series (I don't think Peter is slang for a wiener in Britain--but introduce yourself as Randy and you will get giggles--it's so complicated) .  If you want to read this book, you need to read the first in the series, because it picks right back up with the original plot.  It has some geeky references too (I don't get all of those either). Ben Aaronovitch used to write for Dr. Who.  If that's not geek cred I don't know what is. This is light.  This has none of gravitas of The Goldfinch  (thank God).  Oddly, both books have Harry Potter references.  One cannot avoid Harry Potter

I remember recommending the first book to some of my Anglophile friends and they liked it.  If you are not an Anglophile, don't like mysteries, or fantasy, then skip it.  I liked the first one just enough to give this a try and I needed a break from that damn Goldfinch. I needed a therapy session after that book. I liked this one just enough to likely read the third.  They go fast, its not a steak dinner, it's more like eating a wiener. Yeah, I went there.

Drinks: Drink this with a pint of bitter, just like Peter's wizard boss.  What is that?  It's just the British term for a pale ale (I know it's exhausting)  Now, there are IPA's and pale ales.  Pale ale's have less alcohol and are much less hoppy than India Pale Ales.  British bitters tend to be malty and you can get something called an American Pale Ale, which is more hoppy.  (Again, exhausting.) Pale ales are perfect for summer and taste great with food, especially if you don't like lagers (blech).  I like Bell's Pale Ale, which is not properly British. I've heard that Three Floyd's makes an amazing pale ale called Alpha King (sounds both redundant and boastful).  I'm ready this summer to do some more research for you to see if it lives up to its name.    

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt only publishes a book every ten years.  When they come out, the publishing world goes ape-crap.  Apparently she spends the ten years between publishing books...writing...in longhand.  I think if she learned to type she could spend 2 years writing and the other 8 playing Bejeweled Blitz. (Donna, if you want to score over 350,000 points you're going to need a special gem.) Also, she must be very disciplined to make her paychecks last every ten years.  Stephen King must spend money like a baller buyin' Crystal in da club.

Anyway, this book was very hyped and it is good, but I didn't love it. Without spoilers, it's a big book (nearly 800 pages), and not, say, a light summertime read.  It is a coming of age novel about a teenager and his young adult years. Some of the people in this book are real turds. Tartt does a great job of making up fake rich people names including "Platt" and "Kitsey."  She went to Middlebury, so she would know. 

Anyway, our protagonist, Theo, goes through quite a bit of adversity and drama.  It is full of some life lessons, none of which apply to me as I am not rich, a recreational drug user, nor have I been heavily concussed. Of those three, the concussion is the most I can ever hope for.  It also does that weird thing that some books do and spends the last ten pages telling you the book's meaning.  I'm like, lady if I haven't learned its meaning after 770 pages well…I mean, YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE.  Other cons: It is lacking wizards, dragons and humor.  Pros: there are a few Harry Potter references.  I'm pretty sure those HP references are why she won the Pulitzer. It is possible she won it because she is a very good writer.  We will never know for sure.  

Some of the book is set in Amsterdam. Also, you should drink this with a yellow (goldfinch colored) pretty light cocktail.  This one seems perfect for summer: Dutch Lemonade: 1 & 1/2 ounces of citrus flavored vodka, 3 ounces fresh lemonade.  Add ice to a rocks glass, add the citrus vodka and lemonade and stir gently.  Garnish with a lemon twist. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Thunderstruck

I can't help but think about AC/DC's Angus Young screaming THUNDERSTRUCK! THUNDER! (da da da daaa da da da da) every time I picked up this book.  In all fairness, that's not really a bad way to start any reading session. I was reading this book at the same time as The Luminaries, and it kind of freaked me out when both books were talking about seances.  I guess it was a hot thing at the time, like in the future when authors will write about this time as the era of being famous for having a big butt.  Future cyborgs will be like, people got rich for having big butts?  Yes, yes, they did.

Eric Larson writes this non-fiction book as two parallel stories that converge at some point.  I suppose they did, (vaguely) but one story was soooo much more compelling than the other.  One story is one of the most famous murders in English history and the other was Marconi's invention of the wireless and his challenges while developing the technology.  This book starts strong and ends strong but the middle (the longest part) is so tedious I don't think I can recommend it.  Unless you are really into failed wireless telegraph stations.  You are? Well….then you already know Marconi was kind of an ass.  Spoiler alert.  Marconi was an ass.  He was young, rich and famous.  He invented something scientific but didn't understand the math and he got all the credit but it was built on the foundation of mathematicians and scientists. It feels Zuckerbergian.  We'll see if Mark Zuckerberg keeps trading for younger and younger wives and also befriends the ghost of Mussolini.  Actually, that would make for an interesting story. Maybe Social Network 2: Mussolini's Ghost, staring Nicolas Cage.

Did you know Marconi was actually a Jameson? You should read this with a cocktail that uses Irish whisky. Actually this one has a toddy flavor but for summertime. Perfect.  The Copywriter (I did not make that up): 2 ounces Irish whiskey, such as Jameson, 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 ounce honey simple syrup (half honey, half hot water), 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth, seltzer, lemon twist.  Shake all of the ingredients (except the seltzer and lemon peel) in a cocktail shaker with ice, strain and pour into a Collins glass.  Top with the seltzer and garnish with the lemon twist. 

        

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Luminaries

Man Booker prize.  That sounds like a male modeling agency award.  It turns out it is the literary award for the best book written in the English language from the Commonwealth of Nations.  Eleanor Catton is pretty young to win such a prestigious award. I think of Eleanor as an older person's name but no, she's so young it's like hot again.  I heard some kids playing last week yelling at Edith.  I'm like Edith is a kid's name now? What the hell?  I'm waiting for Ethel to make a comeback.  Or Betty. 

Anyway, The Luminaries is a muscular sized book, set in New Zealand, during the 1860's gold rush; it's like a classier Deadwood.  The book uses the old convention, like in Cloud Atlas, of writing curse words like this "D--n."  If Deadwood had been written like that, the dialog would look like Morse code.  "G-d d--n, c--------r."

This book has more characters than a Newport Kentucky Arby's.  It's mostly men, so I think it's easier to just categorize them into two categories.  Younger characters, in my mind, are Jude Law from the Sherlock Holmes movie.  Older characters are Wilford Brimley with a waxed mustache.  French guy--French Jude Law, Jewish guy--Jewish Wilford Brimley.  Of the two Chinese guys, I just made one tall.  Two girls? One's a blonde and one's a redhead.  Piece of cake.  Hey, I've read five Game of Thrones books.  I've got this.

I liked this book.  It's a complicated mystery and money scheming type plot.  I feel like not all the questions were resolved to my satisfaction but it did hold my interest.  But then, with that many Jude Laws running around in the rain no wonder it won the male model prize.  And I wonder why I'm disappointed with the movie adaptations of books.

Drinks:  They didn't have cocktails back in the 1860's they had c---------rs.  No, they drink stout or dry sherry, which is fine I suppose but I'm really feeling a cocktail these days.  This book has a men's club feel so why not drink with a Pegu Club?  2 ounces of gin, 3/4 ounce Cointreau, 1/2 ounce lime juice, 1 dash aromatic bitters and 1 dash orange bitters. Shake in a cocktail shaker, serve straight up with a lime wedge. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ender's Game

Can a total creep write a really good book?  Sure, you bet.  I had mixed feelings about reading this book, it is a Sci-Fi classic, but I knew that Orson Scott Card was how... shall we say...."controversial." A devout Mormon, Card is an outspoken and vehement opponent of gay marriage.  There are also claims that he has racist and misogynistic tendencies.  Gay marriage doesn't come up at all in Ender's Game (unless you consider the word "bugger" slang for gay men--because they are the enemy).  He does say something outrageously sexist and uses the "N-word" and in a casual and joking way. After I read that part I was like, "When was this book written?  I am thinking, Mad Men early 60's.  Nope. 1985. Wow, what a jerk.

A friend, who is a girl, who loves Sci-Fi and is brilliant (suck on that, Card) recommended the book.  She is not wrong; it is an excellent coming of age Sci-Fi novel.  It also has some Arthur C. Clarke prescient moments about the Internet.  Unfortunately, Card assumes that women will "devolve" and the feminist movement was one bad dream.  (I can see him rocking silently at his desk.) Anyway, Ender Wiggins, boy genius, is our only hope for salvation from the aliens.  If you were born gifted, I'm sure this book resonates with the loneliness and isolation that being that smart can bring. I have no idea what he's talking about. Me not smart. My loneliness is likely because of my weird taste in music and pale complexion.  Spending all my childhood days in the basement watching MTV for hours and hours had nothing to do with it.

So if you do read Ender's Game, you should not buy the book or DVD of the movie (library only please), because no one wants a certain someone to get the royalties.  But, it really is a classic and I found it compelling. It makes me want to re-read Ready Player One, because there have to be references in there.  Earnest Cline seems like an awesome guy, so if they ever make that movie I will buy a ticket for opening weekend. 

There isn't a whole lot of drinking in Ender's Game because he's like, eight.  How about an outer-space "trick" drink that would impress your friends?  The Aurora looks like the Aurora Borealis because apparently while pink in natural light, when you put a black light to it, it turns phosphorescent aquamarine. This recipe makes a lot so half or quarter accordingly:  The Aurora:  2 liters gin or vodka, 9 liters tonic water, 3-4 canisters of pink-lemonade concentrate.  Mix the ingredients before the party; add the ice just before drinking.      

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Happiness Project

Do we really hate those qualities in others that we hate about ourselves?  I think that's like a Zen thing, either that, or I saw that on an existential Popsicle stick.  I think it was Popsicle brand's, "Walden edition." Well, anyway, Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project  has some qualities I can relate to, yet qualities I hate.  Well, she is a former lawyer turned writer (cough), with a happy life but looking to enhance it by conducting self-improvement projects (cough, cough, STAGE COUGH).  Here is where it gets different; at least I'd like to think it's different than me.  It turns out she's kind of a douche.  There is just no other way to say it.  A person does not casually mention they clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor.  No.  A person might casually mention they ate a rat testicle in front of Joe Rogen on Fear Factor.  Also, it seems she lacks a sense of humor, at least about herself. She even wrote that she got a negative review on one of her earlier books and the email correspondence with the reviewer and how hard it was for her to write. Something to the effect that those things you pointed out were the same things I criticize about myself... and his reply, something about "aplomb" (Barf.).

Even her failures are successes.  Well, I didn't get my essay published in the New York Times, but I did get it published on Huffington Post.  FU, lady.  Well, I should have known, anyone that lives in Manhattan is already rich, then she said that she had a "bedroom" and an "office."  You have rooms!  You must be a millionaire.  Then she drops the O'Connor bomb.  When trying to "declutter" she can't bear to part with the T-shirt she wore to an aerobics class with Justice O'Connor, whom she was working for at the time.  Ugh. Now, a good editor is not going to tell you not to put that in, but a good friend or husband might.  She needs a Keepin' it Real project.  Of course, I know lots of overachievers who need that.  Maybe that's what keeps me from being an overachiever.  That and all those rat testicles I ate on Fear Factor.  

I feel like any drink should make you happy.  If your drinks are not making you happy, perhaps you have bigger problems than this book can solve.  One that I made up that makes me happy is my version of a Gimlet. A classic gimlet uses Rose's Lime juice or Lime Cordial. My version:  2 ounces gin, 3/4 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce simple syrup (or to taste).  Add ice and shake, pour into a martini glass.      

Monday, April 7, 2014

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Ah, the blog to published book phenomena.  It has been done, and done well.  But my experience has been reading food blogs to cookbooks and we need to face the facts people...THE FOOD BLOGGERS ARE THE ROCK STARS OF THE BLOGGING WORLD.  If you've heard of a food blog or it wins some kind of award....that blog is amazing.  Like insane.  If you look at the photography, the recipes, the food knowledge and the content...whoa.  Oh, and read between the lines, such as: I was finishing my PhD dissertation and decided to have a dessert party for a professor and play chamber music (as in an instrument--not on an I-pod) and make 3 complicated desserts, one of which was homemade ice cream, that were amazing.  I am not kidding.  Food bloggers are the overachievers of the blogging world.  The people that blog little funny stories, they are just looking for a creative outlet so they don't have an affair, become a serial killer, get an eating disorder or kill their mothers.  Although an efficient serial killer would start with their mother and then go on from there.  What am I saying, that's overachiever food blogger thinking. 

Anyway, Jenny Lawson was not a food blogger but one of those "embarrassing-story-did-this-really-happen-or-this-would-be-funny-if-it-actually-did-happen" writers.  David Sedaris is the ultimate version of this type of humor.  Unfortunately, Jenny is not David Sedaris. This is not that polished.  It's, like, say, a blog post put together in a quasi-chronological order.  But, even a disorganized and not quite as funny David Sedaris is still good for a laugh.  If you believe in organization or editing (I kind of do!) then I would skip this.  If you don't mind funny ramblings from, a friend, (and using vagina as a punchline, um, like every joke) then pick it up.  It's only 318 pages.

Jenny goes on a girl's weekend with other bloggers to wine country.  So you should read this with ten glasses of wine.  As always, start with the good stuff. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Empty Mansions

Can you be so rich that you can be crazy and totally get by with it?  The answer is a resounding yes, but you knew that.  A super rich person is eccentric, a middle class person has a disorder and a poor person is homeless and throws cats at you. (Thank you Simpsons--for everything, really).  Empty Mansions is about a recluse named Huguette Clark.  You've never heard of Huguette Clark even though her inheritance is was one of the largest in U.S. history.  What? You ask, why I have I never heard of her?  First, the inheritance happened about 80 years ago and second, she was a recluse! Recluse, I say.

The first third of the book talks about her father, W.A. Clark, who made his fortune the hard way, starting as a gold prospector, entrepreneur, then he owned copper mines and a railway line.  He was friends with the Vanderbilts, Carnegies and all those guys. He was kind of a jerk, in some ways, ok in others. He didn't make his money finding homes for puppies or anything.  W.A., when he was an older dude and insanely rich, got a trophy wife after his first wife died.  Huguette is the youngest daughter.  She turned out crazy.  She was very socially shy (agoraphobic) and was obsessed with dolls and dollhouses (technical term--bat shit crazy).  She had several million dollar properties that she hadn't set foot in, in like, 40 years.  She lived the last 20 years of her life in the hospital. She gave her favorite nurse over 30 million dollars in gifts over those 20 years. Wow.  Anyway, the Clarks were certainly patrons of the arts.  Both visual and musical instruments.  My friend Richard should not read this book.  He is always pining for a patron.  Those days are gone, Richard. Gone.

I think this book was on Amazon's top 50 books of last year.  I say, meh, its nothing special.  I had to skim some of the legal contesting of her will, because that was too much like work, so I don't think this lives up to its hype.  I definitely don't think its any better than Wendy Burden's Dead End of the Gene Pool.  Wendy is a Vanderbilt, but the big money had run out by the time it got to her.  Well, kind of, think Anderson Cooper.  Anyway, her Grandparents, though, sound exactly like the Putterschmidts. Its a more fun read if you're interested in those super rich olden times guys and their progeny. 

Drinks: one way W.A.'s early and very successful entrepreneurial endeavors was to buy eggs in one location and then take them and sell them at a mark-up to a mining town. The author said it was for a popular drink at the time called a Tom and Jerry--I was like I know that drink--my friend Rob makes that every winter!  It's kind of egg-nog like.  And yes, technically its springtime, but there are still some chilly nights.  Tom and Jerry:  1 egg (get good quality eggs--yes, it will be "raw" although if you heat the milk hot enough which apparently kills the bacteria), 1/2 ounce simple syrup, one ounce dark rum, one ounce cognac or brandy, and hot milk with nutmeg for garnish.  Separate the egg yolk from the white and beat them separately. Fold the beaten eggs together and place in an Irish coffee glass (or large mug), add the simple syrup, rum and brandy.  Fill with hot milk and add some grated nutmeg. 



Monday, March 24, 2014

Shadow of Night

I wasn't planning on reading the sequel to A Discovery of Witches.  Even though I picked the original for my book club, I was non-plussed with the love story (non-ironically dysfunctional), but my crew picked this sequel. Well, I actually liked it better than the first book.  Mostly because the romance is established.  There are a lot more sex scenes (*sigh*-- that's a suffering sigh, not a pleasurable sigh), luckily, supernatural creatures do not believe in foreplay.  So while there are many, the sex scenes are mercifully brief.  And I do mean brief.  Hey, one guy is a vampire, who has lived about 2,000 years, I mean what's an extra ten minutes?  But I digress.  The best part of this book is that it's plot-based.  Yea!!  And this one's set in the olden times. 

Deborah Harkness is a historian and, well, it shows.  Guess what I'm not?  A historian.  Oddly, I always loved History class; in fact I would win prizes for Social Studies and History in High School. I think I got an A in Western Civ in college too. It turns out my talent was for understanding history, not in remembering  it.  I think it's because I mastered the history essay.  It always included: decreasing natural resources caused neighboring countries' conflict, and what at first appearance was a religious dispute, the war was merely a subterfuge for increasing land holdings and therefore regional power.  Right?  Put that in your essay. You are starting with a B and can only go up.  Anyway, there are lots of Elizabethan references and I have no idea what she is talking about. I think there was a reference to Giordano Bruno, but I tracked that because he was featured on Cosmos recently. I think I took classes in Ancient History, so in my mind, 400 years ago is pretty recent. Also, I just like saying Visigoths.

Like the first book, these characters drink a lot of wine.  I looked up what they drank in Elizabethan times and only rich people drank wine and that's when they could get it.  Now, these guys are rich, but a more common drink was ale.  Not "beer" but ale.  Dogfish Head Brewery has an Ancient Ale Series and one is called Midas Touch.  They describe it as somewhere between wine and mead.  They claim it is "made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas."  I don't think they mean 2,700 year old ingredients, I think they mean the same type of ingredients.  Otherwise, that's one hell of a sourdough starter.  I think it sounds kind of good, and Dogfish, they haven't let me down yet, so drink it.       

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Perks of Being a Wallflower

This isn't a self-help book.  I needed to know some of these so-called perks when I try unsuccessfully to attend professional networking events.  I think the real lesson is that there are no "perks" to being a wallflower.  This is a coming of age book that many people have read and I finally got around to reading.  It really is a love it or hate it book.  If you like a coming of age novel with a narrator that has some serious mental issues, well you are in luck!  It reminds me of Silver Linings Playbook (the book--not the movie) but with a 15 year old narrator.  People love characters that are so weird or messed up that they still see life through the eyes of a seven-year-old.  Even if they are fifteen.  Or even thirty-five. 

In a series of letters our protagonist tells the story of his freshman year in high school.  He has a lot of problems.  He is not right.  It is not realistic, not like Freaks and Geeks, or anything.  If you are not on board with our weird narrator, Charlie, a reader could see Stephen Chbosky's writing as "forced whimsy" as one reviewer called it.  You know, I can see that. I think if this came out right when I was 15 and all my classmates were quoting it, I would have probably hated it too.  Normally I am the cynical one.  Wow, this book must have caught me on a good day.  Also, I am sucker for a shout-out to The Smiths.  I loved The Smiths, my Mom...did not.  My Mom: "Oh no! Not the moaning man again!" She used to try to use reverse psychology on me too: "All black again? (pause a beat) You look cute in that!"

While Charlie and his friends drink brandy and listen to records, (that sounds fun too) the book is also set in the very early 90's so you should drink this with a popular late 80's-90's drink.  Kamikaze: 1 oz. Triple Sec or Cointreau (I think Grand Marnier would be fine too), 1 oz., vodka and 1 oz. lime juice.  I drank these and this recipe sounds better than I remember these tasting.  I suspect people were giving me drinks with inferior alcohol.  And not real lime juice. Damn 90's. 




Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Maisie Dobbs

Can two Anglophile-Bibliophiles have differing opinions on a British book?  Sure, you bet your arse they can.  I have a number of Anglophile-Bibliophile friends.  This is actually is pretty nice until they start talking about Sherlock Holmes.  That is like fantasy football to them.  So, when I told another Anglophile-Bibliophile I was reading this book she said, "meh." That's not ultra-negative but it's not a ringing endorsement either. So if you are keeping track that's one AB+ and one AB-.

Maisie Dobbs is not a book I would normally read, but is a period mystery set just after WWI in England.  Maisie is a female private dick.  She is a jumped up country girl who spent her adolescence as a house maid in a manor but the lady of the manor discovers she is a brilliant genius.  Don't we all wish someone would discover us as geniuses!  Her life is then forever changed by the gentlewoman and her weird scholarly friend.

Maisie's manor days are just part of the book and a good portion of this book involves her days as a nurse in WWI.  Also, she solves a mystery, but that almost seems incidental.  AB+ let me borrow the sequel and I will read it.  It has short chapters which are good for reading right before bed or for reading a few chapters with a cup of tea and a homemade power bar.  I know scones are traditional but that's my new obsession.  I've been reading a lot of British themed books but I'm not really an Anglophile.  Trust me, I know so many, that I'm missing that "thing" they have, like an obsession with Dr. Who, Benedict Cumbercatch and all things Neil Gaiman.  So, I would say I'm B+ on this, its not amazing, but I wasn't expecting much. I think a certain AB- might have had her hopes up too much.  I've seen this happen to Anglophiles with a hyped British based series. It's not all Harry Potter, sadly.

At this time, gentlewomen drank claret or sherry--but that's a little boring.  Why not drink a cocktail named after the most popular actress of the time?  The cocktails of this time are very sweet because the alcohol during prohibition was a bit nasty.  The Mary Pickford: 2 ounces light rum, 2 ounces pineapple juice, 1 teaspoon grenadine, 1 teaspoon maraschino cherry juice. Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake, strain and pour into a cocktail glass. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beautiful Ruins

I saw a commercial for an upcoming Jimmy Buffett concert where people were wearing shorts and for like a half a second I was thinking, where did they film this?  Was it on the moon?  This winter was so bad I cannot conceive of ever wearing shorts.  I felt like an anthropologist "what are these 'short pants' these humans are wearing?"  Even if you are not in your short pants but want a beach read this book will work.  I am doing an online 2014 genre challenge and February was "chick-lit" and that scared me.  But the purpose of the challenge was to get you out of your comfort zone.  I picked this book, but I screwed up because "Jess" is a man!  Can a man write chick-lit?  To which chick does chick-lit refer?  Why do we even call the genre something this stupid?

Whether written by men or women these popular fiction books, to me, read like a movie screenplays.  One thing that I should warn you, if you have a hard time with frame stories, flashbacks, other book chapters within books, a few lines from a play, and a proposed movie treatment, well you will have a hard time with this.  But, remember this is popular fiction so it's not like this is hard to follow.  Game of Thrones it is not.  It all kind of works together in a fairly light and breezy Italian island way.  Oh, and it's a little funny, not like David Sedaris funny, but ok and not old-man fart jokes.  Not that I'm totally opposed to a well-placed artfully crafted fart joke.

Set in Italy in the 60's and present day Hollywood, if you like books about the movies, give it a shot.  Beautiful Ruins is not really romance as it is drama with hijinks and a little humor. Here is your summer read, it's just a little early. Think of it as a reward for taking a big course load and getting to graduate early.  I think that's called premature matriculation. 

At one point a couple of the characters have Mai Tais at Trader Vic's and I was like I want one too! (It was exactly five o-clock at the time) It's a little complicated but those tiki drinks sometimes are, also you should know there are lots of variations.  This one seems to be most like the Trader Vic's version:  2 ounces aged rum, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, 1/2 ounce curacao, 1/4 ounce "rich" simple syrup (use double the sugar to water ratio--I think Agave Nectar would work too), 1/4 ounce orgeat, 1 cup crushed ice. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, pour into a double old fashioned glass and garnish with a sprig of mint. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Book of Daniel

What's the opposite of a beach read?  Mountaintop read? Glacier in Greenland read? Sometimes "important" authors make things hard.  The Book of Daniel is a historical novel based on the Rosenburgs' life, trial and execution, told from their son's point of view (mostly).  It's ok that I struggled (almost not worth it), this is a topic I wanted to know more about anyway.  While fictionalized, the book provides a narrative set during the Red Scare, which for the modern reader, is becoming a distant memory.  Doctorow blends real people and real events with his fictionalized "Isaacsons."  Oddly, Isaacson is my mother-in-law's maiden name, she isn't Jewish, it's just that her Grandfather's Finnish name was too insane for Ellis Island.  Trust me, some Finnish names are insane.  The real name sounds like a pharmaceutical pain reliever. 

The topic is not what makes this book hard, actually, it is what made me keep reading.  What makes it hard is the that the whiplash narrative is told from first person narrative to third person, the timeline is mixed up, the first person narrative is told from multiple characters, it mixes memoir, standard narrative, political satire and analysis.  It makes the reader need a Finnish pain reliever.  This book is a bit of a slog-fest, espeically at the end.  Written in 1971, this style was either trendy or innovative at the time.  That's what "important" writers do. This was Doctorow's first real book after he quit his day job, which is a really bold move when you think about it.  Like, really bold.  Luckily, it was considered a masterpiece and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Whew.  And like other important writers like Murakami, it has some of the creepiest least sexy sex scenes I have ever read.    

Accused of beign a Russian Spy in the 50's?  You should drink with a Moscow Mule: 2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce lime juice, ginger beer to taste.  Pour the vodka and lime over ice in either a copper mug (traditional) or highball glass.  Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Foodist

Whatever you do, don't look at Darya Rose's website.  Its called Summer Tomato and it has her smiling, gorgeous, young face just beaming at you.  It also includes her name with the PhD behind it. (*sigh*) It takes a big woman not to hate her.  I am that bigger woman because this chic is tiny.

The nice thing is that her PhD is in neuroscience and this is one of the smarter books on diet and exercise that I've read.  Of course the bar is set pretty low. I've read my share and at least in the beginning she even tells you where there are food debates.  Thank you.  If you read enough diet books and websites they contradict themselves.  Low-fat is out and Paleo is in, what's up next week?  Who knows?  This is why old people just give up, they have seen it all.

This is not strictly a "diet" book.  If fact she doesn't use the word diet she calls it a "healthstyle." Um, that sounds really stupid. Also, we differ in one respect in that when I need to lose weight I have to count calories and she doesn't.  Trust me, when I don't, its like I'm a recovering gambler playing with house money.  I can eat healthy food and still gain weight.  I am just that kind of overachiever.  Anyway, she incorporates the Michael Pollan, don't eat processed food credo, with Baumeister's Willpower theory that you have to set a strategy or you will fail.  Reasonable, very reasonable.  Unfortunately, she lives in San Francisco, shops at the Farmer's Market every week and talks about dinners at Chez Pannise.  Sure, its easy to eat healthy and get your 10,000 steps that way.  Try living in Norwood, Ohio, where the liquid that comes out of my pipes is Mountain Dew and walking 10,000 steps is going to give you a live-action Diane Arbus retrospective.

Ms. Rose is ok with an occasional cocktail (she has some weird advice on this you should ignore).  I think an occasional cocktail can totally be diet friendly.  I don't drink as many as I used to, and I don't believe in things like diet tonic water, or god forbid, light beer.  So, a properly sized martini hits the spot.  I like a gin one.  Use some decent gin please. 2 ounces of gin to one ounce dry vermouth (more or less to taste), put in a shaker with ice.  Now, many insist it should be stirred and not shaken. You know what? You do what you want. This is your special treat.  Pour into a properly sized martini glass (meaning small).  Garnish with a twist of lemon peel or an olive. This martini is about 177 calories.  Yes. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Etched City

If this book had a theme song it would be Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads. Written by Austrailian author K.J. Bishop, while these characters are on the road a lot, what I really mean is the plot.  I think this is what happens when you just start "riffing" without an outline or a plan. I imagine George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series as a plot line that begins around the Arc de Triomphe and the "roads" radiate out like a wheel.  Now, his keep going and going and you beome quite worried.  You think, are we going to ever get to a resolution, and how did I end up in Brittany?  But he has a plan, its a huge, ambitious, insane plan but he has one.  This book, by contrast is full of dead ends, cul-de-sacs, a proposed bike path, but with no destination.  Don't get me wrong, she can write a beautiful sentence, but what's the point without a plot?  If the point is to anger me, mission accomplished. 

We start the story in the desert, with a lady doctor and mercenary bandito, Gwynn.  Its like a Western but on camels.  Then our characters go to a lush river town, think Thailand, and Gwynn becomes the main character.  Its like what happened to our lady?  Also, that whole desert scene doesn't have relvance to the plot anymore...poop...why did I suffer though that?  (I don't care for Westerns) In our lush city, Gwynn becomes a gun for hire, who stops to have long, pointless, major theological discussions with the local priest.  Ugh.  Was is just to show Bishop's philosophical chops?  Why?  Also, there is no magic or any fantastical elements until the second half of the book---I was like where are the damn dragons!  Give me a sentient book at least.

While its not the worst book I've read, you should skip it, but you should NOT skip this drink.  Part exotic, part Western, try this: Gold Rush:  1 1/2 ounces Domaine de Canton (ginger flavored liquor that is to die for), 1 ounce bourbon, 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon.  Put with ice in shaker.  Drain and serve.  So so good.  This has a point.  Destination delicious. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Red Tent

Did you know before it was a hit Broadway show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was first a book?  How they make a musical out of human traficking is beyond me but I once saw (*cough*--had to see) Lord of the Rings the Musical, so anything is possible.  Anyway, The Red Tent is about Joseph's only sister Dinah.  Told in her voice, this book has been around since the 90's, and while this is a very good book, I suspect it would appeal to women only.  I say this because the red tent is a place in the olden times to go when you are on your period.  I know, gross right?  Today it would be Tampax presents Kayne West's The Red Tent.  You would go in there and be bombarded with market specific messages.  I know I would be peddling tent-to-tent selling chocolate covered potato chips.  Wow, I'd be so rich. 

This book moves fast, as Dinah is our narrator, about living with four Moms "Caanite style."  The author does a good job depicting the ancient middle-east's polythistic view and how Jacob would have been a weirdo beliving in one god.  This is especially so since his god seems like a god version of The Godfather and after what happened to his grandfather and father. This is God from Genesis: "You wanna favor from me? Well, this is what you do, instead of sacrificing that stupid lamb, why don't you show me the proper respect by murdering your oldest son? I mean show some respect?  Wait, I was just kidding.  I wanted to see if you were loyal.  I tell you what, why don't you just give me all the newborn's foreskins ok?"

Dinah doesn't really care about that god, and this book isn't really about the men anyway.  Dinah is into girly stuff like midwifery.  Some really bad stuff happens to her because her brothers are idiots.  It happens. 

Drinks: There is a lot beer brewing and beer drinking in this book.  I found out that they didn't use hops back in ancient middle east brews but sometimes they added fruit and spices.  I found a beer that fits this description but I have not tried it. Ballast Point (they are in SoCal and I have tried the brand--delicious) has a dopplebock that has flavors of raisins and apricots which sounds middle eastern to me.  I love IPAs, but I suppose I should give other beers a chance.  If you make me.         

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Wind in the Willows

"Don't those animals die?"  My husband said to me again.  He thinks every children's story ends in a bloodbath.  None of the animals die in this, some of them get into trouble, one gets hurt with a billy club but he was some nasty weasel that deserved it.  When I reviewed Watership Down I mentioned that, for me, a sophisticated animal should wear a top hat.  Well, the animals in The Wind in the Willows would own a top hat, a bowler, a fedora and a driving cap.  And that is at the bare minimum.

Written over 100 years ago, The Wind in the Willows has super fancy anthropomorphic animals.  Think English gentlemen or gentleanimals, if you will.  Three of the characters live in burrows but still have chimneys, sideboards and they all own smoking jackets.  They even have a spare smoking jacket just in case a fellow fell in the river or something.  Mr. Toad drives a motorcar.  How does he reach the pedals?  Why doesn't Mr. Badger eat his little friends instead of smoked ham with mustard?  If those kinds of questions will bother you, then this is not the book for you. 

This is not the adventure story of Watership Down, its more like little related tales with four animal buddies.  I feel like Kenneth Grahame went to a fancy prep school and decided to write a story about his bros.  I suspect Grahame thinks he is most like the Water Rat, aka "Ratty" (he's fairly smart), and his buddy "Mr. Mole" (not as smart) used to go sculling and they had a ripping good time.  One lesson I learned is that a rich, well-heeled animal that gets into legal trouble will not get any real comeuppance, not really. And that is a valuable lesson and good for children to learn early.

Anyway, its a kind of cute story and very British. Its meant for children but I suspect this would be bizarre for a modern child. Is your child into Downton Abbey?  Maybe they will like it.  Also your child may be weird.  Its a classic bit of literature and I don't regret finally reading it, but are you missing something monumental if you never do?  No, Ratty, you are not. 

Why not drink with a Sidecar?  While it seems to be invented in France (makes sense with Cognac in it) the British adopted it quickly.  Also, I can see one of these animals driving a motorcycle with a sidecar wearing little goggles.  So, Sidecar:  One and half ounces of VSOP Cognac, Half an ounce Grand Marnier, One third ounce lemon juice.  Put all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, strain into a chilled glass (a champagne coupe if you have one--you fancy gentleanimal, you).

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tequila Mockingbird

You can make money publishing a book pairing cocktails and snarky book reviews?  What?  Ha! Well, the jokes on you Tim Federle, I do it for free.  Wait.... Tequila Mockingbird has the format and style of an old school cocktail book.   Every drink has its corresponding book and there is a never ending bombardment of puns.  I think puns should be used sparingly, like nutmeg. Maybe even less than nutmeg.  Like aspic. We should be given a finite amount of puns in a lifetime. Everyone knows someone who has used them all up.  Under that logic, its now TIME FOR THEM TO DIE.  Another word of warning, some of the drinks are clearly for joke purposes.  Now, I will say or do most anything for a good joke.  I will read a crappy book if it will make for some jokes (I will be honest with you about the book's crappiness).  But I will NOT give you a joke drink (unless its patently obvious--which I have totally done). 

For example, under Remembrance of Things Pabst (yes--all puns!) the recipe calls for 6 oz of iced tea (Earl Grey), 1 12 oz. can of beer, like Pabst, and a lemon wedge.  I think this will taste pretty nasty.  In the Postman Always Brings Ice it calls for 1 oz. ouzo (we're already in trouble) and 1 can of cola.  WTF?  No!  Are you trying to kill me?!  Here's the deal, alcohol is too expensive and has too many calories for these joke cocktails.  Some of the cocktails look ok, but he is crazy with the mixers.  For Infinite Zest, the book description has footnotes (which is pretty cute) but the recipe calls for 2 oz of vodka, 1 ounce lemoncello and 1/2 oz lemon juice.  Now, there is no doubt in my mind that this will taste fine.  However, you are killing the subtly of the lemoncello by pairing it with straight lemon juice.  Maybe someone who uses all of these puns has never heard of subtlety.   Almost all of the recipes have strong fruit juices and lots of soft drinks mixed in.  Maybe the author doesn't like the taste of alcohol?  He is a Broadway actor by trade, perhaps these are his pre-show "power" juices. 

The good news is that the book is pretty funny and some of the jokes look awfully familiar, which, in my humble opinion, is a fine thing.  Anyone that make a Virginia Woolf rock joke is ok by me.  So, if you like this blog, read the book, but drink at your own risk.

What to drink with this book?  Not all of the drinks look bad and this one looks promising:  A Cocktail of Two Cities:  1 sugar cube, 1 oz. gin, 1/2 ounce lemon juice (I'd probably put a splash in myself) and champagne.  Place the sugar cube in the flute, pour the gin and lemon juice in a shaker with ice and shake well.  Strain into the flute and fill to the top with Champagne. Hurrah!