Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Con Artist, Comedy, People Falling off of Towers, Clay Men with Firey Eyes, Pigeon Dung

I stumbled upon this book at the library, and what a gem it is!  Going Postal written by Terry Pratchett is the 33rd of the Diskworld novels, and I know I will need to read some more!  I've not read fantasy for quite some time, but this is delightful.  The story is set in a mechanical world (Diskworld) with believable characters in an environment where magic, time warps, vampires, golems (clay men who never sleep and are programmed to serve) and more exist.  What really sold me on this book though was the humor, in site into human behavior, and a mechanical email system (called the Clacks).  The Clacks is a system where people relay twitter length messages across many miles across the Grand Trunk (in our world the Internet) by moving a mechanical bit flipper (states are on or off, binary code).  The people in the next clacks tower (in a high and dangerous position) visually pick up the message and relay it, and in that way the message travels, like the pony express galloping mail across the US.  There was even the concept of a Clacks virus (there is no equivalent for Norton anti-virus) along with hackers.

I haven't stopped laughing.  Even the characters names are funny - lets see, Moist Von Lipwig (the protagonist and a very cunning con man, who is trying to make the post office 'work'), Adora Belle Dearheart (a smart woman whose kiss is like kissing an ashtray, who runs a golum rental service, and who Moist would like to date) Reacher Gilt (the bad guy and head of the Grand Trunk), Tolliver Groat (a hardworking postman who smells like cough medicines and old potatoes), and my favorite, Mr Pump (a clay man who is Moist's parole officer, but used to be a pump in a very deep well for many centuries).  Oh, and pigeons (and their dung) are prolific in the wreck of the post office, and there are other wonderful characters.

The final treat is that there is a UK DVD series dramatized,   This is quite a fun web page to explore.   And now, a trailer so you can see first hand what a golum looks like!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Suspense, Excitement, and Just A Little Bit Outrageous!

That is what I want to read next!  Enough literature, it is time for drugs, sex and rock and roll!  So, I shall look at my stack.  I'm winding down on a delightful fantasy/science fiction book by Terry Pratchett,  Going Postal, and am (finally) almost finished with Dickens's soap opera like tale, Great Expectations (Penguin Classics),  which I would like to say is available for FREE download via the Gutenburg Project

Every devoted reader has "the stack", that top heavy menagerie of books collected over many garage and library sales that beg to be read, but I'm wondering, what shall sate my mood....  What would your vote be?  Lets see, this is what I shall consider.  After spelunking through the book pile, I found the drugs, sex and rock and roll pickings slim, so perhaps Western vs Horror is the pick of the day.....

Deadwood , a western based on Deadwood, Dakota Territories in 1876.  To quote the back of the book (recently bought at the Deadwood SD museum), "Legendary gunman Wild Bill Hickok and his friend Charley Utter have come to the Black Hills town of Deadwood fresh from Cheyenne, fleeing an ungrateful populace...."  That should be good for alcohol, sex, guns and murder...

I found a Dean Koontz (a cleaner horror than the Steven King variety), By the Light of the Moon, collecting dust in the book case.  Koontz tends to focus his tales on good vs evil, where the good guys often include pets, children, a man and the woman he loves. Evil is chance, often of the science fiction flavor, and is always conquered in the end.  The stories don't require a lot of emotional expenditure on the part of the reader and are exciting to read.  So, I think the suspense and excitement will be rated high.  The cover states "... a novel of heart stopping suspense and transcendent beauty, of how evil can destroy us and love can redeem us..." 

Lastly, Steven King's Dreamcatcher has been sitting in the book case unread, and I'm starting to see why.  The story takes us back to Derry, Main, where friends struggle with "a creature from another world where their only chance of survival is locked in their shared past..."  Sounds A LOT like It .  Now I know why I haven't picked this up in the last ten years it has been collecting dust.  It was a very long novel, that should have been told in around half of the pages it took King to spin.  Shall I risk boredom? 

So, what do you think?  Which would you pick, or would you just go to the library and browse?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Good Harbor, Anita Diamant

Breast Cancer, The Virgin Mary, A Child's Death,  Illicit Love, A Female Rabii

Some years back, our book club read and discussed The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.  It was good, interesting story, fun to discuss, but not very memorable (the red tent was the holding place for menstruating Jewesses in the ancient days of the Old Testament) - or should I say I can't remember the story, so that means it wasn't memorable to me.

This newer creation of Diamant, Good Harbor,  shows her maturation as an author.  The story is more like a walk in the everyday changing life of a middle aged women.  I can attest, what we have to go through is insane, everyone having difficult but separate problems that are so twisted that you can't share them with your spouse (umm, an affair would be an example), or your children and often not even your friends.  They eat away at you, bother you, and make you absolutely mad while you are trying to hold together your family and your own sanity. And, if you don't think your friends are having these problems, then you are just not telling you about them.

Anita Diamant makes the best of this middle aged situation by weaving a dual female friendship into the everyday drama of two Jewish woman, Kathleen Levine and Joyce Tabachnik.  This is a good discussion book for middle aged female friends, probably not so great for the young woman who don't have a clue what being a middle aged mother is all about.  This book was not heavy in plot, but heavy in subplots.  It was more like a detailed painting of two woman's lives, beautifully done and easy to read.  I think the point is that woman need each other to survive middle life.

As for the statue of the Virgin Mary, she too ties into this story.  I think she is the female friend that one of the less important characters needs to survive her own middle-motherhood, but that would be up to discussion.  So, what do you think this statue of the Virgin adds to the story?  Recall, this was a young Mary, solid in concrete and worshiped by a secret following.

Well, to help you out, here is a link to a reading guide from one of my favorite book browse sites, but they totally missed the Virgin Mary question. 

If you would like to learn more about Diamant, here is a link to her web page and a list of all of her books:
She also has a blog.  You can view this by clicking here: 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Lunatic Express and Some Recipies

I do have to say, the Abes books blog is pretty great.  I don't know what following it has, but Richard Davies is a model blogger.  Here is the link:  He is short, sweet and interesting.

So, back to book business, we meet and discussed The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes this weekend, and concluded that Carl Hoffman was a self centered skunk.  This conclusion was made without excessive adult beverage.  However, most everyone liked the book in spite of the authors disregard for caring for his family.  It certainly shed a lot of light on what a rich, luxurious life we all lead.

The book that won our vote for next bookclub is  In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.

I have to say, the around the world theme for lunch was awesome.  In addition to the recipes below, there were lamb kabobs, fruit salad, some orange wine drink, Chinese chestnuts, tamales and probably some other yummy thing to eat that I'm not recalling.  Here is a smattering of some of our fare.  I have to say, these recipes were delicious.  Matter of fact, as I'm typing this, Wat is cooking away in my crock pot for this evenings meal!

KHEER    Serves 4
(Rice Pudding with Cardamon and Pistachios)             
Rich, reduced-milk rice puddings are popular in many parts of India, under various names; kheer is most common.

5 cups milk                                6-8 tbsp. sugar
1/4 - 1/3 cup                             2 tbsp. shelled peeled
basmati rice, rinsed                     pistachios, chopped
6 cardamom pods                        1/4 tsp. rose flower

1. Put milk, rice and cardamom into a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring often, until milk has reduced by one-third, 15-20 minutes.

2. Add sugar, 1 tbsp. of the pistachios and rose flower water and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Discard cardamom pods.

3. Finely chop the remaining nuts, Serve pudding in small bowls garnished with pistachios.

I used almonds and a few raisins which I have seen used in this pudding in various Indian restaurants here. I prefer the flavor of the almonds with the sweet rice.


A tasty combination of squash, yams, and coconut milk. Squash and yams are very common in Africa.

one onion, chopped
one pound squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
a pound or two of yams (sweet potatoes may be substituted), peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
one cup coconut milk
one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon
one quarter teaspoon ground cloves
salt to taste

Fry onion in skillet, stir and cook until tender. Stir in all other ingredients, and heat to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and stir occasionally. Cook until vegetables are tender (ten to fifteen minutes).

Wat (Meat Stew), Ethiopia

from Favorite Recipes from the United Nations, published by the United States Committee for the United Nations, Washington, D.C., 1956

1/4 pound butter
2 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
2 pounds boneless beef, lamb or veal (cut into 1-linch pieces)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
4 cup hot buttered noodles (optional)

Melt half of butter in a heavy saucepan, add onions, and cook over medium heat until onions are soft.  Mix in remaining butter and water, and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.  Add meat and seasonings.  Cover pan and simmer mixture for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.  To thicken sauce blend 1 T of cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water.  Add to hot stew and continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  This flavorful stew would be good served over cooked buttered noodles.  Crisp rolls, a green salad, fruit dessert, and beverage, would be a fine choice to complete the meal.  Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

This recipe is verbatim from the cookbook.  This is what I did was:

I used white onion, and cut up sirloin beef (super lean, as I cut out as much fat as possible) for the meat.  After making the onion mixture, I put everything in the crock pot around midnight, and it was ready seven hours later when I got up.  I thickened it with 2 T of cornstarch, and served it over boiled whole wheat noodles with no added butter.  I think it was really good, and will make it again.  Cooking the onions in butter and not browning the beef made it a little different.