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.