Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Blogger Hop September 29th - October 5th: "222 (Live & Uncut)" is the Unedited Version of Patton Oswalt's Album "Feelin' Kinda Patton"


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever slept with a favorite, beloved book under your pillow, or cradled in your arms?

While I have unintentionally fallen asleep while holding a book more than once, I can't recall ever doing so by design. I'd be too worried about damaging a book to ever purposely choose to sleep with one under my pillow or while holding one.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Sherlock Holmes Lived at 221B Baker Street

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, September 29, 2017

Review - 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire by Greg Stones


Short review: Ninety-nine stormtroopers join the Empire. Then they all die.

Haiku
Many stormtroopers
Die in lots of funny ways
And then, the Death Star

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire is an absolutely adorable little Star Wars-themed picture book. The book opens by introducing the ninety-nine stormtroopers who have joined the Imperial forces, and the succeeding pages show how, in groups from one to thirty-six, they meet their demise. The various deaths are played for humor, with the troopers dying from a variety of causes that will be fairly recognizable to anyone who has seen the Star Wars movies. The entire book is illustrated in a cute, kind of whimsical style, with cartoonish and somewhat surprisingly (given the violence inherent in many of the deaths) bloodless artwork.

The entire book has kind of the same tone as Ed Gorey's Gashleycrumb Tinies, mirroring it somewhat with the creative ways the stormtroopers die. It is also somewhat reminiscent of the old children's song Ten Little Indians, especially since the book keeps a running account of how many stormtroopers are left as each page goes by. One the other hand, such comparisons aren't entirely accurate. Unlike Gorey's Gashleycrumb work, there is no rhyme to the text, and unlike both of the aforementioned works, there is no apparent pattern to the forms the stormtroopers' deaths take or how many stormtroopers die per page. I suppose the fact that the deaths are so completely random is part of the joke - disposable stormtroopers dying in completely unpredictable ways highlights the casual, almost offhand manner in which the characters in the movies treat these fatalities.

One question that comes to mind when reading this book is exactly who is its intended audience. At first, one might think that this is a cute Star Wars book aimed at young children, but I suspect it really wouldn't work for them. The "jokes" are really only funny if you know what the author is alluding to: "One stormtrooper fails to shoot first" isn't really funny unless one has seen the cantina scene from the original Star Wars (and followed the ensuing controversy as the scene was cut and recut in various editions of the movie). "Two stormtroopers think the security droid is on their side" is really only funny if you have seen Rogue One. And so on and so forth. The problem is, kids who are still in the "picture book" stage generally won't have latched on to the Star Wars movies yet - they are just too young to appreciate them, at least in my experience. Some of these sorts of works, such as Darth Vader and Son, work as humor even if one doesn't really get the references. They are enhanced when one knows what the author is alluding to, but that is unnecessary for the enjoyment of the book. Without the references, 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire is just a bunch of guys dying creatively, and that's probably not all that interesting. I can only surmise that the true intended target for this book are people who grew up on the film series who want something cute they can put in their infant's nursery because it looks cool to have it there, or possibly leave on the coffee table as a conversation piece.

Overall, 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire is a cute little book that delivers exactly what one would expect. Ninety-nine stormtroopers enlist, and then amusingly die as a result of a combination of the Empire's callous indifference and their own ineptitude. The book is not really much more than silly fun, but it is fairly clever silly fun, chock full of Star Wars references that are used to humorous effect. This book is unlikely to change anyone's life, and probably won't occupy anyone for more than ten or fifteen minutes, but it will be a joyful and goofy ride while it lasts.

Greg Stones     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ad Astra Review - Ajvar by K.V. Johansen

What Is It? A roasted eggplant and bell pepper spread flavored with garlic and chili sauce.

Haiku
This is really sweet
Much sweeter than expected
But still good on bread

Review: The first recipe in Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook is one that K.V. Johansen discovered when some of her books were translated into Macedonian and she began traveling to the Republic of Macedonia, presumably to promote her work.

Ajvar is an eggplant and bell pepper concoction flavored with garlic, cider vinegar or lemon juice, and hot sauce that can be served as a spread on naan or bread. I have to say that this recipe really doesn't taste anything like I expected it to. The roasted eggplant is almost completely overwhelmed by the sweetness of the roasted bell peppers, and even though the recipe calls for a quite generous amount of roasted garlic, it isn't really noticeable either.

After roasting all the vegetables, peeling the eggplant, garlic, and bell pepper, and then puréeing the lot (I used a stick mixer rather than a food processor), the end result was a lot runnier than I had thought it would be. I don't think I added too much liquid - I didn't add any more olive oil than had been used in the roasting process and I only put in a little bit of cider vinegar and hot sauce. I was anticipating something more hummus-like in thickness, but this turned out to be more "uncooked pumpkin pie filling" in texture.

The flavor of the ajvar is basically that of a sweet bell pepper. I was expecting more of a kick, but even when I went back and added more hot sauce, salt, and pepper, the flavor of the mixture was still mostly just bell pepper sweetness. This isn't bad, but it is blander than I was prepared for. The redhead and I ate it with naan bread, and she had a similar reaction to mine. Her exact quote was "That was a lot of work to eat puréed bell peppers". I can't really disagree. It wasn't really all that much work compared to many other recipes, but the end result seemed kind of underwhelming. It might be improved by increasing the amount of garlic in the recipe (although the recipe itself calls for the reasonably generous amount of eight cloves of garlic), or reducing the number of bell peppers used.

Overall, this was decent, but it didn't knock my socks off. I might try it again, but if I do I'll probably add some extra spices or garlic or something. The redhead suggested adding a can of chickpeas to thicken it up, which might be a good adjustment as well.

Next recipe in Ad Astra: Anouchka's Grandmother's Salmon Pâté by Cat Sparks

K.V. Johansen     Ad Astra Cooking Project     Home

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Ad Astra Cooking Project

I recently acquired Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook, a collection of recipes from members of the Science Fiction Writers of America edited by Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde. As with all things, I intend to review it, but reviewing a cookbook poses a challenge that most other books do not: There is really no way to accurately review the book based upon reading it. Cookbooks are interactive - you can only appreciate them if you cook the recipes and eat them. So that is exactly what I am going to do.

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred recipes in the book, so I'm not going to make them all at once, or even in the near future. I'm planning on making, trying, and reviewing about one recipe a week for as long as there are untried recipes in the book, starting with the first one and going through them in order. As I review the recipes, I'll post links to them here, adding to the list on an ongoing basis. I'm saying that I'm planning on doing that, but it is unlikely to be a hard and fast schedule: Some weeks I might review more than one recipe, in some weeks I might not be able to review any, but that's the plan.

The book was created to raise funds for the SFWA Legal Fund to support writers in need. The overall theme of the recipes in the book is supposed to be "party", working on the theory that writers know how to throw a party. A lot of the recipes were solicited for this work, but some were originally collected by Astrid and Greg Bear for a cookbook that was never published. The introductory material includes Connie Willis passing on some excellent cooking advice from Charles Brown, and Carrie Vaughn explaining how to create a cocktail laboratory, including a couple of recipes for some classic cocktails to try. Larry Niven contributes a chapter on how to serve hundreds of cups of Irish Coffee to eager convention-attendees, an essay that is clearly informed by lots of experience.

Jennifer Stevenson describes how to throw a pig roast, which is an involved process that should only be attempted by those with lots of room, sufficient handyman skills to do a lot of nuts and bolts work as part of their cooking, and lots of time to cook. The end result does seem like it would be delicious. Ken Schneyer and Janice Okoomian give a detailed account of how they hold a Prancing Pony party ever year in late September to commemorate Frodo's arrival in Bree, complete with three recipes. These recipes, like the cocktails in Vaughn and Niven's chapters, aren't listed in the table of contents, but I'll get to them and try them anyway.

Esther Friesner gives some opinions on cake, mostly extolling its virtues. Ricia Mainhardt gives just over a dozen recipes for sweets for one, designed to be cooked in a mug in a microwave. I don't actually have a microwave, so trying these out will have to wait until I do, but as I estimate that it will probably take me something on the order of four years to work through all of these recipes, I figure I have plenty of time to get one. The final introductory piece is by Michael J. Martinez, and discusses the joys of home brewing beer, with some loose instructions on how to go about it. Just as I don't have a microwave, I don't really have space to let a five gallon bucket sit for two to four weeks at a time fermenting beer, but there's a decent chance I will at some point in the future, so I might be able to give home brewing a try.

That's all the introductory material. Here are the recipes. There will only be a few at first. I'll be adding to this list as I get to each one in turn:

Savory Snacks
Ajvar from K.V. Johansen
Anouchka's Grandmother's Salmon Pâté by Cat Sparks
Bastilla by Erin M. Hartshorn
Big Bang Brussel Sprouts by Sean Williams

Sweet Snacks and Desserts
Apple Crumble by Chet Gottfried
Pudding Course: Apple Fritters by Gail Carriger
Apricot Mascarpone Poppers by Julie Jansen

Cat Rambo     Fran Wilde     Home

Monday, September 25, 2017

Musical Monday - Can You Picture That? by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem


Yesterday was Jim Henson's birthday. He would have been 81. He died in 1990 at the age of 53 from toxic shock syndrome that probably could have been treated if he had just paid attention to the signs his body was telling him and gotten medical attention earlier.

I am the exact right age to have been influenced by Jim Henson. Sesame Street debuted in 1969, the year I was born, and by the time I was ready to watch it, it had hit its stride. When he made The Muppet Show, I was seven, which is pretty much the perfect age to first watch that series. When The Muppet Movie came out, I was ten, and once again, the perfect age to watch it. When he followed that up with The Great Muppet Caper, I was twelve, and despite the movie's odd flaws, I was in overjoyed to have it. When he put out the somewhat surreal Dark Crystal movie in 1982, I was thirteen, and ready for the quirky fantasy story. I even liked The Muppets Take Manhattan. I didn't really appreciate Fraggle Rock when it was first aired, but in 1986 when he put out the movie Labyrinth, and in 1987 when he made the Storyteller series, I was primed and ready.

The Storyteller series was essentially the last major work we got from Henson.

Between 1969 and 1990, Henson produced one of the most magnificent bodies of work in the entertainment world. Under his guidance, puppets became a major force in the entertainment world. He gave us educational children's entertainment, snarky humorous shows and movies, surreal fantasies, all which was packaged with vibrant, beautiful music, and a perspective on how people should live that was joyful and optimistic. Even his "failures" (such as, for example, Labyrinth, which lost money at the box office) were brilliant.

He contributed more than just the Muppets though. He was instrumental in so much of what Sesame Street was: He appeared in several stop-motion pieces that were regularly aired on the show, and one recurring "counting" feature always ended with a chef proudly presenting a number of confections as he walks, and then fell, down a small set of stairs. The triumphant voiceover announcing what the chef was carrying was Jim Henson's voice. Every day I am grateful that Henson hit his high points during my childhood, when I was of the age to be able to truly appreciate them. Even things I discovered later, such as his production of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, are so good that I wish I had first seen them when I was younger. It is hard for me to explain the influence Henson has had on my life, in part because I am almost certainly not aware of the full extent of it. I grew up awash in Henson's life philosophy, and I am certain I wouldn't be who I am without that.

And yet, every year when his birthday rolls around, I am also angry. Henson's primary creative career spanned a period of twenty-one years. (Yes, he did stuff before Sesame Street, but that show marks the beginning of the explosion of creative output from him). He's been gone for twenty-seven years now. Even if you assume that he would have retired at some point between then and now, there is no question but that we have missed out on years and years of fantastic work that he could have done. I know it sounds greedy, and I am grateful for all of the work we have of his, but I will always wonder about what might have happened had he just taken some time out of his workaholic schedule and gone to see a doctor a couple of weeks earlier.

Previous Musical Monday: Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Rainbow Connection by the Kermit the Frog

Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Blogger Hop September 22nd - September 28th: Sherlock Holmes Lived at 221B Baker Street


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: In regards of Banned Books Week (www.bannedbooksweek.org/), what are your favourite books that has been banned or challenged?

Given my love of science fiction, one might think that my favorite banned book would be a classic work of science fiction, such as Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, or even George Orwell's 1984. However, my favorite banned book is none of those. Instead, my favorite banned book is, and likely always will be, Harper Lee's To Catch a Mockingbird. I suppose it isn't really a big revelation that the book in which a lawyer is the hero would be my favorite banned book, but given that it was one of the primary influences that made me decide to become a lawyer, it seems almost inevitable that this would be my choice.

I also quite like Joseph Heller's Catch-22, which is a very different book from To Catch a Mockingbird in almost every way possible. I'm not sure what that juxtaposition means, but there is probably some deep insight into my psyche that could be gleaned from figuring that out.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 18, 2017

Musical Monday - Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke


By now, pretty much everyone should know the drill on these. I know a woman named Renee. She is, in fact, one of our best friends and part of the most badass couple we know. As usual, the lyrics of the song have no relationship to the actual person other than the fact that her name is in them.

On a more song-related front, I picked the recording by the Left banke because it is my favorite version of the song, but it has been recorded by a surprising number of artists. The most famous other version of the song was performed by the Four Tops, but it has also been done by Linda Ronstadt, Herman's Hermits, and Cyndi Lauper among others. It seems kind of odd that so many much more famous artists have covered the song, as the Left Banke really only had two hits (this song and another titled Pretty Ballerina), and has mostly fallen into obscurity now. Their song lives on though.

Previous Musical Monday: Melissa by the Allman Brothers

The Left Banke     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Book Blogger Hop September 15th - September 21st: Imperator Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Married a Vestal Virgin in 220 A.D., Which Was a Huge Scandal in Rome


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever bought a more expensive edition of a book, when a cheaper edition was available, just because you preferred the cover of the more expensive one?

I buy most of my books second-hand, so I generally take what I can find. I have been known to buy a book that is more expensive if it is in better condition, or if it is a hardback instead of a paperback, but I can't remember a time when I bought a more expensive edition of a book simply because the cover art was better. Of course, my idea of better artwork might not match up with that other people have - I've always been partial to a lot of the art style used on science fiction novels from the 1960s and 1970s, and I know a lot of people think they are terrible, so I might not be buying a more expensive copy to get my preferred artwork. I won't rule out ever buying more expensive copies for better cover art in the future, but it isn't something I recall actually doing.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Sherlock Holmes Lived at 221B Baker Street

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 11, 2017

Musical Monday - Melissa by the Allman Brothers


So, after a brief break on these, I'm back to the "name songs" with one that is just a little bit off. The song isn't off - the Allman Brothers produced a classic with this one, but the person who triggers this song to run through my head is not actually named Melissa. Actually, it is two people, who each have different (although very similar) names who make this song run through my head when I run across them when I am going about my day. As usual, the content of the song other than the name is irrelevant to the association. It seems weird to have a song associated with someone's name that isn't actually their name, but there you have it. My brain apparently works in strange ways sometimes.

Previous Musical Monday: Heaven by Warrant
Subsequent Musical Monday: Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke

Allman Brothers     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Blogger Hop September 8th - September 14th: The "219 Restaurant" Is a Creole Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever bought a book because you liked its cover art?

I can't say that I have. I will admit that cover art on a book can draw my eye, but unless there is something I like about the book on the back cover, or on the inside of the dust jacket, or an introduction or when I read through the first couple of pages, I'm not going to buy it no matter how pretty the cover is. Cover art is kind of a nice bonus, but on its own it doesn't make me want to buy a book.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 4, 2017

Musical Monday - Heaven by Warrant


This song is quite obviously not intended as a song about a daughter, but the redhead insists that it actually is, so I'm using it as a song for Jim this week.

On an entirely different note, I think that this video may be peak 80s hair metal. I almost shudder to think how much Aqua Net was used for the hair in this video, and the volume of white leather is almost to high to be comprehensible. The band itself is seemingly the apotheosis of hair metal bands, with their treacly power ballad coupled with synchronized jumping, spinning, and falling to their knees. The only band I can think of that could compete with Warrant for the "peak 80s hair metal" title would be Poison, but that's a question for another day.

Previous Musical Monday: The Universe by The Doubleclicks
Subsequent Musical Monday: Melissa by the Allman Brothers

Warrant     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book Blogger Hop September 1st - September 7th: A Total of 218 Votes Are Needed in the U.S. House of Representatives to Achieve a Majority


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you participate in The Bloggiesta?

No, I don't. Actually, I had no idea what the Bloggiesta was until I looked it up to answer this question. Now that I know what it is, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to participate mostly because I don't blog very well on any kind of schedule - which is one of the reasons I never participate in blog tours.


Book Blogger Hop     Home