Author Archive: Dan P.

The E Files #3

donotsend
Yes indeed, time for another round of facepalming fun. You know, I used to write and perform stand-up comedy. I couldn’t have written some of this stuff and have anyone buy it.

—————

“We are interested in dinner at your restaurant one of the nights while we’re here. According to your website you’re not open on Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays. Please put us on your waitlist for one of those three nights next week.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. We’re only open Wednesday through Saturday, so we don’t have a waitlist for Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, as we’re closed.”

“Yes, we know, it said you weren’t open those nights on your website, but are you refusing to put us on your waitlist?”

“Umm… okay, you know what, I’d be happy to put you on the waitlist for one of those nights.”

“Just let us know which night to come.”

“Again, we’re closed those nights. I’m happy to put you on a waitlist, but we’re not going to be open.”

“Whatever.”


“Our niece and her husband ate with you last year and raved about the experience. We’d like to attend, but given what we think about their tastes, it remains to be seen whether we’ll enjoy anything you have to offer.”

Seriously, do I even want these people here? Is this just a generally grumpy or misanthropic person, or was that a sort of throwing down of the kitchen mitt in challenge? … We took a chance and accepted, they came, they enjoyed.


“We have no food allergies or dietary restrictions. My girlfriend isn’t overly fond of mussels, but it’s no big deal as long as they’re not a whole course.”

[We have a seafood sauce on a pasta that evening that includes calamari, shrimp, prawns, cockles, clams, and yes, mussels. She eats all of it but the three or four mussels, which she pushes to the side.]

“It would have been nice if you’d have bothered to read our email in the first place. We made it clear that my girlfriend is deathly allergic to mussels, and yet you served her a plate of them. You could have sent her to the hospital and should have offered an alternative.”

“My apologies for the misunderstanding, I was under the impression that she just didn’t like them very much and since they were just a small part of a mixed shellfish sauce, and you’d said it wasn’t a big deal, I didn’t think it would be a problem. She did eat the entire dish but the few mussels on the plate, no? This is why we ask about allergies, but not dislikes, as we couldn’t possibly plan menus that fit everyone’s preferences each evening.”

“What’s the difference? Allergy or dislike, we made it clear that she couldn’t eat them, no matter what.”

Umm, no you didn’t. These are the kind of people who cause problems for people who have actual allergies, when restaurant teams get tired of bowing to every whim of a customer. All it leads to is either restaurants that end up saying basically ‘no substitutions, no special requests’, something that’s becoming more and more common, or, and far more dangerous, chefs who simply decide to ignore requests that think are bogus.


This whole thing about people wanting to come when we’re not open mystifies me. Not that it happens that they want to come on a day or week when we’re not open, but the level of insistence on some people’s part (as above in the first email exchange). With a schedule where we’re not open all the time (what restaurant that isn’t something like a diner is?), and that it may not coincide with theirs, but…

“We’d like a reservation for two for tomorrow.”

“Unfortunately for your timing, as noted on our schedule, we’re on vacation this week and next. Perhaps some time in the future on another visit?”

“We probably won’t be back, we want to come tomorrow. Make it happen.”

“Sorry, but we’re away, I’d be happy to recommend some alternatives.”

“If you had a fucking clue about hospitality, you’d make this work instead of giving me shit. We’re not interested anymore.”

…didn’t bother to respond. I’m sure a nasty TripAdvisor or Yelp review is in the offing.


Have to give points for honesty to this one – a newspaper travel writer contacts me for an interview about Casa S…. this is a paraphrased and much shortened conversation:

“Let’s do the interview on Monday, around noon if that works.”

“Sure, that’s great.”

“And you’ll be preparing a five course meal for myself and two friends who I’ve invited to join me, free of course.”

“No. Sorry, first, we’re not open for lunch, and second, that’s not part of the deal for an interview. You can make a reservation for dinner one night when we’re open if you want to try our food and experience a dinner here.”

“Fine, for the following night. Again, free for all three of us.”

“No, sorry, first off we don’t offer free meals for reviews, and second, we certainly wouldn’t also offer them to friends you happen to invite. Don’t you have a budget from your newspaper to pay for meals?”

“Of course I do, and I’ll need a receipt for the full amount for three of us, but I’m keeping the money – if you want a review, you give me the meals for free.”

“Sorry, but we that’s not an option. Do you still want to do the interview? If not, I fully understand.”

“Yes, I’ll still come for the interview.

Didn’t show up, never responded to followup email.


Nothing like folk who are confident in their own worth!

“We’d like to reserve for two for Saturday evening. We’re both highly intelligent, perceptive, and witty people who will bring a level of conversation to the table that it’s unlikely your other guests are capable of. The format of your dinners, the whole concept, and the ambiance will be a quaint choice for us over the sorts of high-quality restaurants that we normally frequent. However, we do prefer that sort of food, so we’d like your permission to bring in food from a top restaurant for ourselves rather than pay you for your efforts. We’ll of course pay you a corkage charge for the wine we’ll bring and tip the waiter. We await your reply with much anticipation.”

“No, sorry, we don’t have spaces available for you.”

“Your website says you still have spaces available that night.”

“Yes, we do, I’ll leave it to your highly intelligent and perceptive abilities to re-read my first response.”


“The three of us are highly allergic to mayo and there can’t be any in any of our food.”

“Which part of the mayo is it that you’re allergic to, in case we have to avoid one of the ingredients – the egg yolk, the mustard, the lemon juice, or the oil?”

“We’re not allergic to any of those things, just to mayo. Why would you bring those things up?”

“Because that’s what mayo is made out of… other than salt and pepper, there’s nothing else in it.”

“No, mayo is something else than what you’re thinking of, maybe you don’t have a word for it in Spanish.”

“It’s not, and we do, but I’m guessing that one or more of you simply doesn’t like the texture of mayo and you’re not actually allergic to it?”

“Well yeah, it’s disgusting, but that’s like an allergy.”

No, no it’s not at all like an allergy…. “Okay, got it.”

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Flag Waiving

I’ve had an itch. There has been so much stuff going on in the world of politics, economics, and everything else, over the last few years – or maybe it’s just become more important to me – that I want to have my say. And hey, I already have this platform, and while this site may have been primarily a mix of published articles and critiques of restaurants and books, why not critique other stuff?

I know, I know. “You’re a chef, stfu about politics, stay in the kitchen and cook.” Yeah, well, you’re an office worker, a landscaper, a police officer, a hairdresser… so stay in your cubicle, garden, squad car, or salon, and stfu yourself. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes, we all have one (except for the rare individual with imperforate anus or a similar medical condition, but we’re not going there… oops).

So, I’m going to pick topics that strike me as interesting, or get me riled up, or whatever it may be, and write a brief commentary on them. Plus, maybe it will breathe some life into this blog. Maybe I’ll even get a comment (nasty ones with all sorts of curse words or insults will most likely be simply deleted, unless I can find a way to make your life hell by using it in some fashion). So, onto the show….

You might have guessed from the title, this is going to be about the whole flag, Pledge of Allegiance, taking a knee controversy.

Personally, I grew up with the Pledge of Allegiance. We recited it daily, standing at attention, hand over the heart, and with gusto. It’s ingrained into me. I see people asking questions on Facebook and Twitter about whether the folk who are so riled up about the whole take-a-knee thing are standing and reciting the pledge when they’re at home watching the game. First off, there’s no requirement to do that, there’s a whole protocol for being in the presence of the flag and all that, but you know what, while I don’t stand at attention, I usually find that I’ve pretty much automatically put my hand over my heart and quietly recited the pledge to myself along with the folk on the screen. It’s so automatic I’d have to truly put a conscious effort into not doing it.

I spent a lot of my earlier years in one form or another of public service. Be it in the Boy Scouts, on into being an Explorer Scout with the Ann Arbor Police Department. Be it in Army ROTC for a year and half until being asked to resign because we were back in the days before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Be it participating in the Michigan State Police summer programs. Be it as an EMT and later a paramedic for the ambulance services in Washtenaw County. Volunteer for the Red Cross, teaching CPR and First Aid. I was interviewed (several times) by the CIA (yes, that one, not the Culinary one) when I was working on my doctorate in psychology, for a profiler position, until I told them I was gay, at which time they offered me a job in the secretarial pool.

One of the things that was always present, and it’s been said more eloquently by many veterans, including some who disagree with the take-a-knee stance, was that part of what we were there to protect was people’s right to dissent, people’s right to free speech, people’s right to protest. That’s part of what America is all about.

And I understand the urge, the need, to protest. I’m not black, never have been, never will be. But I am gay, and I am Jewish, and I have had my share of prejudice to deal with. Setting aside being asked to leave the Army and the CIA, I’ve been fired from two jobs for it. In the restaurant business of all places. Going back to my days as a paramedic, I was stripped of being a supervisor because of it. And actually, before that, I’d worked as a security guard on University of Michigan’s campus, and I was stripped of being a supervisor there for being gay too. I’ve been physically attacked for it at least a dozen times that I can think of. I was refused admittance to Yom Kippur services at a synagogue of which I’d been a member for years, when the board of the synagogue took it into their heads to root out the homosexuals. And when it comes to verbal abuse, both for being gay and for being Jewish, I can’t remotely begin to count the number of incidents I’ve been through in my life.

And so, I’ve participated, mostly in my younger years, in protests and rallies and organizations and what-have-you that were in favor of gay rights, or against antisemitism. I don’t do so much of that anymore because I’m simply tired of having life being about a constant battle. I just don’t have the energy to invest in it, I want my energy invested in things that are positive, and creative, and yeah, I know that may be a cop out, but so be it.

So here’s the thing. I viscerally don’t like what Colin Kaepernick did that launched this whole movement. It’s automatic. I’m one of those people who when someone doesn’t stand during the Pledge, or doesn’t put their hand over their heart, nudges them to do so. But I wouldn’t force them to. I wouldn’t call them names. I wouldn’t demand they be punished. Because I recognize that regardless of my personal feelings about it, they have the right to theirs. I recognize that he, and the other players who have now taken a stand, or a knee, beside him, aren’t “disrespecting the flag”, anymore than any other person who chooses not to recite the Pledge is. They’re not “expressing a political opinion”.

They’re calling attention to the fact that after decades of supposed progress in integration and equal treatment, we just aren’t there yet. Be it in opportunities, compensation, inclusion, oppression, violence, or hey, even joke-telling, it just ain’t equal. As a friend posted earlier today on Facebook, “Thinking NFL players are ‘protesting the flag’ is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation.”

I know this from my particular circle in the world, when here we are in 2017 and I have friends and acquaintances, many of them who claim to be bastions of tolerance and liberalism, who think nothing of telling fag jokes, or making comments about Henry’s and my relationship that they’d never make to a straight couple, or making assumptions about our relationship based on our age and cultural/racial differences (the latter brings up a whole other can of worms that has allowed me to see some disturbing racism in friends whom I never wouldathunkit of) or thinking it’s okay to comment on their imagination about what my (or other gay people’s) sex life is all about, or imploring me to “understand” why someone, at random, or an employer, or whomever, has a reaction to my being gay (usually justified by some sort of religious context).

To sum it up, while I personally will probably always stand and recite the Pledge, and the flag is something that holds a place in my heart, that’s emotional. As a thinking person, and as someone who believes in democracy, I will also always respect the right of any of my fellow citizens to not to do so. I may not like it, but I get it. And that’s the key point I want to make. It doesn’t actually matter why Kaepernick, or anyone else, chooses not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Even if there were no racism, no oppression, even if it was all, as the saying goes, rainbows and unicorns, for people of color, it’s irrelevant. We live in a democracy and they don’t have to stand or pledge. That’s their right.

And yes, sure, an individual team owner could choose to fire them for it, legally – First Amendment rights don’t apply to employment situations (unless your employer is the government). And I’d support the right of that employer to do so, even if I don’t think they should, morally – the issues are too important in this day and age. And you know what, it’s a minute at the beginning of a football game. Stand, pledge your heart out, let the players (and spectators) who choose not to, have their moment too, and then get on with the game. And then after the game, let’s get to work on the issues they’re protesting so that one day, hopefully soon, no one feels the need to take a knee.

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The Book Stack #10

jumbled books

Eleven more books for your reading stack!

My Year of Meats: A Novel by Ruth Ozeki (1999)

An amusingly comic look at a weird combination of the world of meat production, Japanese television culture, and family life. I’m not even sure how to go beyond that in describing it, other than to say that it touches on so many cultural tropes, so brilliantly, that I had trouble putting the book down. We have traditional Japanese men and women, we have modern Japanese-American men and women, we have non-Japanese, “wholesome, middle American” men and women, and they all combine into a ground together amazing whole.

Fair warning, you may come out of the book never wanting to eat meat again – after all, to paraphrase a dictum, you don’t really want to watch sausage being made. ☆☆☆☆☆

Malevolent (Cases of Lieutenant Kane Series Book 1)
Requite (Cases of Lieutenant Kane Series Book 2)
by E.H. Reinhard (2014, 2016)

I thought it was really well written, engaging. It’s very dark. In fact, numerous people seem to have given it negative ratings because it gets a bit graphic in the details of how the serial killer does stuff, but I’m not all that squeamish about medical/anatomical stuff, so I didn’t find it off-putting. In fact, it made it more real, rather than glossing over it. I also thought that the police side of things was well handled and felt more realistic, with a mix of plodding detective work, noticing small clues, a lucky break or two, etc. Looking forward to heading into the next books in the series. ☆☆☆☆

Like the first, I thought the second book was really well written and completely engrossing. I read through it in about two hours. Basically, the same review as the first book. ☆☆☆☆

The 56th Man (An Ari Ciminon Novel Book 1)
The Godless One (An Ari Ciminon Novel Book 2)
by J. Clayton Rogers (2009, 2013)

I’m intrigued, plain and simple. I love detective and mystery and police procedural novels, they’re among my favorites. And I’ve read many a foreign version, which are often particularly interesting simply because of the cultural differences and getting a sense of those through the eyes of a protagonist operating in the midst of their own culture, and one I don’t know from personal experience. Here, we get that viewpoint, in this case of a former Iraqi military and police officer, now working for the U.S. governemnt, and plunked down in the middle of a world that I’m already familiar with. It adds the dimension of our sleuth not just having to solve a crime, but do it within an environment that’s as foreign to him as he is to us. Looking forward to the next volume. ☆☆☆☆

Following on really liking the first volume of this series I was looking forward to another mystery/police procedural in the same vein as I headed into the second book. While the characters remain, instead this volume heads into the world of Middle Eastern politics and personal revenge on the part of the protagonist. And, while still well written and compelling, it’s a story that comes across as a bit unbelievable. ☆☆☆☆

vN: The First Machine Dynasty
iD: The Second Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby (2012, 2013)

The idea of artificial life forms, be they machine intelligence, androids, robots, petri dish grown clones, or what-have-you, often makes for an interesting sci-fi premise and story. At the same time, usually with other than brief glimpses into the thoughts or subroutines of the entity in question, the stories are almost always told from the perspective of a third person, usually human. I imagine that’s because it’s easier to approach the genre from there – how do we, humans, deal with, interact with, etc., etc. This book flips that around and approaches the entire story from the point of view of one “vN”, as she comes to grips with, in essence, her “coming of age” in a still dominantly human society. It’s well done, intriguing, and in the opposite of what I normally find with these sorts of stories where it occurs to me to wonder “what’s this look like from the android’s view?”, I found myself thinking, “oh wow, we’d never have come to that conclusion…”. ☆☆☆☆

Following on how much I liked book one, I was really looking forward to book two, and it didn’t disappoint. Picking up within moments of the finale of the first book, this one launches full tilt into the conflict between humans and vN, the “androids” who are essentially the other dominant species on the planet by this point. And things escalate from there, coming to yet another finale that leaves things open for another volume – which has been added to my wishlist for when it becomes available on Kindle. ☆☆☆☆

Debt of Bones (Sword of Truth Prequel)
Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth Book 1)
by Terry Goodkind (1994)

I started this series as part of working my way through a list that was published on Buzzfeed of the best series of fantasy novels out there. I’ve sort of made it my audiobook listening for while I’m working in the kitchen when I’m not overly involved in what I have to pay attention to. As such, I’ll admit, I miss some stuff here and there – and it’s an extremely long book (4 hours of audio for the prequel and 34 hours for volume one), so it took awhile to get through it. ☆☆☆☆

I really enjoy the world that Goodkind has designed here, and the interaction of the various factions. I also like that while the book is a part of a series, and I’m looking forward to the rest, it’s a self contained story arc. At the least, while there are things left open to develop in the future, the main thrust of volume 1, the battle between our protagonist, a “Seeker”, Richard Cypher, and the antagonist, a sort of dark lord, Darken Rahl, actually comes to a quite satisfying conclusion. And in the prequel, we are introduced to some of the key characters and the events which start them down the path that begins in book one. ☆☆☆☆

Pandora by Anne Rice (2010)

I read the book that started this whole enterprise (and pretty much the whole genre of vampire stories in its modern incarnation), Interview with a Vampire, so many years ago I barely remember it. This one just popped across my reading stack as a last minute something that someone had left a paperback in a hotel room and I picked it up and started in on it. Not my favorite genre of reading, but an enjoyable and relatively quick read, so thumbs up, but not enough to grab me to run back to more of the books. ☆☆☆

The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill (1892)

Generally considered the first ever “locked room mystery”, the book is less about the mystery than it is about the characters involved in the investigation. Extremely well written prose. As the readers, we’re afforded little in the way of detail – we’re not party to the investigation itself, we don’t get to see any clues, we aren’t privy to any interviews or depositions, such as they may have been at the time (this book was published in 1892, London). Instead, we get to listen in to the thoughts and occasionally the conversations, of the various witnesses and one of the principal investigators, who is outside the police force. As such, most of the enjoyment of the book comes from the intricacies of their observations and musings. The end result may or may not be a surprise, it depends on how close attention you’re paying to those various inner monologues, but it’s not the result that matters in the last pages anyway. ☆☆☆☆

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The Book Stack #9

jumbled books

Forbidden Thoughts, editor Jason Rennie (2017).

This book got a lot of play in the last year or so as “Milo” rose to (in)fame with his various political antics. And antics they are, watching him speak or reading his rants, it’s pretty clear that regardless of whether he believes what says or not, he’s not actually interested in anything but self aggrandizement. Mostly his positions are pretty poorly formed and rely on the misdirection of using non-PC language and/or personal attacks, taking everyone’s attention off of the lack of substance to anything he’s saying. Yet somehow, the editor and publisher of this collection of short stories, decided that his name on the cover would be an attraction. It worked. But then, for those seeking to read more of his work, the disappointment of finding that all he did was write a foreword note at the beginning of the book that has little if anything to do with the content. He asserts that there’s never been a collection of such revolutionary non-PC science fiction in all of history. Obviously he’s clueless to the Libertarian origins of much of modern Sci-Fi, or even the genre as a whole. But let’s set all that aside and get on to the meat of the book itself.

There are some great stories in here that save the book from being worthy of nothing more than the scrap heap. The problem is, there are also a bunch, probably more than half, of the stories, that do little more than attempt to incense the reader by being as non-PC as they possibly can, throwing in words and thoughts and actions that are guaranteed to horrify anyone with leanings to the left. But they go way too far, and I don’t mean that because I’m incensed by them, but because they’re little more than the same as I accuse Milo of above. They’re distractions, they’re glaring baubles, designed to do nothing more than distract the reader from the fact that the stories have no substance. They’re just ranting and exaggeration designed for effect and show the authors’ complete lack of story telling ability.

In the end, there’s just not enough to recommend the book. There’s far better, shall we say, non-leftist, non-PC science fiction out there than anything in this book. ☆☆

Infomocracy by Malka Older (2016).

It’s an interesting read, relatively fast paced, and I enjoyed it. On the other hand, it was a little like going to an all you can eat buffet, where you take some of everything, get back to your table, and it’s both too much food to eat, and not all of it quite goes together on the same plate.

Taking the level of suspension of disbelief into the political and information realm, it requires that you believe that countries that currently exist still kinda sorta do, but not exactly, and are instead now connected not by cultural or racial heritage, but by a mosaic of political viewpoints, scattered across the globe. Often they’re completely disparate to their neighbors, and even within individual countries, broken up into a mess of political parties, some run by corporations, some by de facto governments, some by grassroots organizations.

And somehow, within all of this, we’re expected to buy into that all of these same factionalized and fractionalized groups of people and political organizations have agreed to have everything coordinated by one single entity that provides them with filtered information so they can make a decision where they want to live and work at any given moment. Throw in a gratuitous romance with two high powered individuals, who somehow decide, in the midst of all this Information overload, to not bother to check each other out but just go on gut feeling, and then proceed to violate the principles of their careers just because each other was good in bed.

It doesn’t make it a less fun read, but it does make it a little hard to swallow. ☆☆☆☆

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (2014).

This one was a slow slog to get started on, and several times during probably the first half of it I was tempted to just give up and set it aside. Much of that, I think, is that it felt like a slightly stilted translation – as if the translator was searching for a way to express concepts that he didn’t quite know how to put into English fluidly. I’m glad I stuck through it, as in the end, I liked the way it developed and will probably go on to read the rest of the trilogy. I wasn’t wowed, but I was intrigued.

It’s interesting, given the political climate in which we’re living these days, in various parts of the world, how the premise of first contact is handled. The idea that humans basically divide into two camps (three in the book, but still more or less fall into two ideals) – those who see contact as a threat (in this case an explicit one) and do all in their power to resist, and those who see it as an inevitability with which they collaborate. Kind of reminds me of the current sci-fi television show Colony.

I also liked the undercurrent of the conflict between science and religion, though I think it’s perhaps drawn as too starkly a black and white issue, one or the other. That probably fits more the Chinese cultural model of what science and religion are all about (though I’m no expert on Chinese culture), at least from what I’ve gleaned over the years. ☆☆☆

The Gourmet Detective mystery series (8 volumes), by Peter King (1996-2003).

Okay, hmm… I’ve read the whole series now. I’m not going to do individual book reviews, some of them are better than others, but they’re all enjoyable, quick reads. Then again, throw gourmet food and wine into anything and I’m likely to add some points to it in my mind. Bizarrely, though, given that I gave all the books three stars, I don’t know that I recommend them. Had they been written fifty years ago, I’d give them some more slack, but here are my issues with, well, all of them:

The gourmet detective himself, our protagonist, is an unlikable twit. He’s a middle aged, pretentious white man, with delusions of self importance. He fancies himself a ladies man and, of course, manages to get one or another into bed (trailed off, never portrayed, just make sure we know it happened, wink, wink) in all or almost all the books. He’s misogynistic, racist, and classist. He fancies himself a connoisseur of all things food and wine, and throws about names and terms, most of which the average reader will not have heard of, and will probably just move past without much thought. The problem is, he’s pretty much clueless and the mistakes in his descriptions of various ingredients, dishes, and bottles of fermented grape juice are legion.

In short, and yes, I realize I’m generalizing and could be accused of bias myself, he’s the sort of detective that a 70+ year old retired upper middle class British metallurgical engineer (who apparently at some point went to the Cordon Bleu cooking school to be trained as a chef, though my bet is he just took a few cooking classes for home cooks, then again, who knows, but it seems he did it after retiring at some point in his 70s) would reimagine himself to be if he were to become a food detective. In short, a sort of Walter Mitty alter ego. ☆☆☆

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (2016).

You know the running joke where people start comparing how hard they had it growing up… it starts with something like “we had to walk 5 miles to school every day…” and ends up with things like “uphill both ways” “cardboard boxes for shoes”, etc., etc.? This book is that done in long form. It’s an ostensible memoir from someone who grew up in a disadvantaged, poor community (except he really didn’t, he grew up skirting around it, because he actually spent most of his childhood living with or near relatives or step-relatives who were fairly well off and encouraged him to stay away from that community) who spends nearly 300 pages trying to convince us that his particular disadvantaged, poor community has it worse than any other one. And he also ricochets between being pretentious about his own life and condescending about his roots and the people who still live there, and trying to hold them up as somehow better by virtue of being in worse straits than how he imagines (with no evidence that he has any experience of) other disadvantaged, poor communities to be. Basically it’s a barely veiled tome touting “Hillbilly (i.e., poor white) Lives Matter More” and as such is just as egregious as much of the BLM movement comes across at times. ☆☆

Daimyo by S. Lee Lyndon (2014-2015).

Really enjoyed this entire trilogy. It was an interesting glimpse into a culture and period that I’m not overly familiar with, other than just peripherally from being into the martial arts world. It would be a complete spoiler to tell you what the overall arc of the story is, so let’s just say it covers the adventures of a young Japanese fisherman as he matures in life. In the end, while a totally logical step by step, the overall arc of the three books is a bit far-fetched, but fun to follow along. It’s a sort of novel form of the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics, or adaptation, sometimes called Lamarckism, i.e., that somehow or other non-biological accomplishments and internalized histories can be passed down genetically to the next generations (pretty much a dismissed idea in the genetic world). Still, a very enjoyable read. ☆☆☆☆

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (2016).

This one was as difficult to read as it probably was to write. An outsider attempts as close as possible, an insider view of a particular culture, in this case, far right wing, for the most part fundamentalist Christian, Tea Party voters, from an industrial area in Louisiana. She ingratiates herself into their world and admirably does her best to tell their stories, particularly what has led to their political alignment and voting (what’s often talked about in left wing media as “why do these people vote against their best interests?”). She succeeds in making it interesting, and even in giving a decent view into the logic and thought that these folk use. At the same time, if it was at any point her intention to make them look actually logical or sensible, she fails, because bluntly, they come across looking more moronic than the so-called “liberal media” has ever portrayed them. Maybe that was her real, behind the scenes intention from the start. ☆☆☆

Sixteen books seems enough to give you some reading material for now…. Enjoy!

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The Book Stack #8

jumbled books

Let’s jump right in from where we left off….

The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Ship of Magic (1998), The Mad Ship (1999), and Ship of Destiny (2000).

There’s a certain sort of morality play that runs through this trio of books, as the various members of the spotlighted Vestrit family explore and interact with the world, some by choice, some by force, and come to grips with what may be one of the most important moral questions – Myself, or Others? While not preachy about the choices that each of the main characters make, it becomes clear that the author has a preference in the answer to which one leads to a life better lived.

Set in a world with semi-sentient, and often highly emotional, ships made from a mysterious substance referred to as wizardwood, the Vestrits are a seafaring family who “own” their own liveship. It’s a world of conquest, with precious substances to be found, to be traded, to be plundered. There are pirates. There’s a despotic monarch and his retinue. There are strange, “other” sorts of humans who generally keep to themselves, but are integral to the rest of the world’s functioning. There are even sea monsters, of a sort.

Well written, enjoyable, engaging, and… long. ☆☆☆☆


Inspector Erlendur Novels (8 Book Series) by Arnaldur Indridason

I don’t usually review a series until I finish it, but the truth is, I don’t know that I will. I appreciate that this series of police detective novels has won awards all over the place, but I’m not sure that I know why. Maybe it’s just the translation from Icelandic to English, but I found them to be stilted and strangely paced. I read the first two Jar City (2000, also called Tainted Blood in some translations) and Silence of the Grave (2001), and then I just sort of put the rest of the series on hold.

None of the protagonist, Inspector Erlendur, nor his two detective companions, are particularly likable, in fact, at moments, they’re kind of detestable. In their own ways, they’re all bigots, either ageist, sexist, racist, or some sort of ist. They have a bleak view of humanity that they make little effort to hide. They all have their various secret problems, ofttimes as troubling as those of the criminals they’re tracking down. Some might claim it makes them more human, or ordinary, but do we really want to read about those sorts of detectives?

But more to the point as a reader, mostly, they just plod along, and we have to plod with them, until they happen across a clue in that leads to another, and another, and eventually to solving the crime. It’s perhaps a little too “real time” of a pace for going through a mystery novel, giving full meaning to the term “police procedural”, because we’re right there for every little procedure, relevant or not. ☆☆☆


IQ by Joe Ide

Fast paced, gritty, and gripping. Everything the two books in the review above weren’t. A wise-cracking, street-wise detective from southern California takes on the world of rappers, gangsters, cops, robbers, murders, hit and runs, and more, all from a little home office. Now, one could argue that a private eye who has no real credentials to speak of that gets into all of that is far less believable than a plodding police detective, and I couldn’t argue with you there. But I will assert it’s a far more interesting and riveting read.

Isaiah Quintabe is driven by ghosts of his parents and older brother, mostly the latter, who was killed in a hit and run when he was young. IQ, as he’s styled, basically raises himself from that point on, treating his brother’s apartment as his own, and somehow managing to cobble together enough money to live on, pay the rent and bills, and maintain the fiction that he’s still under adult supervision. Somewhere along the way he discovers a talent for noticing when things just aren’t right, and putting together the logic of what’s gone wrong – and builds it into a sort of casual detective service.

In this volume, he takes on solving a murder yet to happen – as he’s engaged by a reclusive rapper who’s convinced that someone is out to kill him. Some of those around him think it’s for real, others think it’s a delusional fantasy, and IQ has to sort his way through the lot. Somehow or other, it all works, and it’s well worth a read, and well deserving of the accolades the book has gotten. ☆☆☆☆


The Vegetarian by Han Kang

There’s a difference between curling up with a good book to just read and enjoy, and sitting down to read a piece of literature. This is the latter. A translation of a South Korean novel that’s taken the literary world there by storm, and had praise heaped upon it internationally, this isn’t the sort of book to meander through with a mug of hot cocoa at your side. I think it best if you slam back a couple of shots of whiskey first, and maybe take the time for another couple between sections.

No question it’s a creepy, and creeping story that will pull you in quickly. It’s basically a first person novella – but from three different first persons, though not all at once. Instead, it’s the same story, that of a woman who decides to become vegetarian after awakening from a terrifying, blood-soaked nightmare, first from her husband’s perspective, then the story picks up from the point of view of her brother-in-law, and finally culminates from the perspective of her oldest sister. The object of the story, Yeong-Hye, is mostly just presented from the outside, though here and there we get a glimpse of her thoughts thrown in as italicized tangents.

Is the book worth a read? Yes. Is it one you’ll come out the other side of having enjoyed? Unlikely. ☆☆☆


Chop Suey by Barry Kalb

I guess I was on a bit of a kick of reading foreign mystery novels. There must have been an article or list somewhere that I read that intrigued me, and I launched into it without making a note of where I saw it. This one comes to us from Hong Kong, where the author was a longtime lecturer (some 35 years) at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. It’s often interesting when a journalist, or at least someone steeped in that writing tradition, turns their hand towards fiction. I can think of numerous books that came across as reportage rather than novels, and lack the appeal of the latter.

That’s not the case here, with a well written story that takes us from the discovery of a body washed up on the shores of Hong Kong through the intricate world of Chinese art and antiquities, and those who pursue it with a passion, and bring in the politics and maneuverings of both the local and mainland Chinese bureaucracy, neither of whom really want the answers sought by our erstwhile detective. In this case, the latter isn’t one by trade, but simply by circumstance, in reality, he’s a reporter who finds himself embroiled in the situation because the aforementioned corpse was one of his best friends.

What? In this day and age, a reporter, a journalist, who actually investigates? It’s nice to know they still exist, even if only in fiction. Well worth a read! ☆☆☆☆


Five books, or at least five reviews, seems to be a good stopping point in a single post. More to come.

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The Book Stack #7

jumbled books
It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?! Let’s take a peak at a little of what’s come and gone on the reading pile.

The Sam Reilly Collection, Christopher Cartwright

A trio of books that follow a sort of vague, Indiana Jones-ish theme, if Indiana were a spoiled rich kid with a covert ops military background, a daddy with more money than the IMF, and an inexplicable talent for stumbling across the trails of mythical artifacts that are less the provenance of history than they are conspiracy theories on the deep web. Sam Reilly is ostensibly a marine biologist, though the topic of marine biology plays, at best, a sort of triggering event and then retreats into the background. Instead, it provides a tacit reason for placing his Batcave on the deck of an oceanographic research vessel. As I found in the book by Cartwright that I reviewed in my last round, Reilly and one or two other characters are such the focus of the writing that no one else really ever steps out of the shadows for more than a cameo appearance, and are immediately forgettable. The books are a quick, and fun read, sort of rollicking adventures following Reilly as he tracks down a long missing Nazi blimp in The Last Airship and discovers its true, deep, dark secrets, a mysterious ancient shipwreck that has become tied to a marine life destroying mining operation in The Mahogany Ship, and finally, the search for Atlantis in, well, Atlantis Stolen. Much of each volume is taken up with battles between the forces Reilly is able to muster using daddy’s money and those of daddy’s business rivals, making this feel at times like a bitch slap fest between Bill Gates’ and Carlos Slim’s children at a debutante ball. With guns. ☆☆☆

Haven Series, Carmen Webster Buxton

I’m not sure if two books constitutes a series, but so be it. Perhaps there are more to come. Two really well written books, The Sixth Discipline and No Safe Haven, that start from the premise that humans have “seeded” another world, and that the original settlers divided into factions, who’ve take different approaches to life. It comes down to a culture clash between those who’ve chosen a life close to and in tune with nature, including a separate faction of extremists, and those who’ve gone the citified and technological route. Both books are focused around the misadventures of Ran-Del Jahanpur, one of the nature folk, who is captured for purposes I won’t reveal here by one of the corporate titans of the techno folk, as he finds himself forced to adapt to the latter. Much of the storyline is spent on the struggle between the two cultures, and it’s an artfully drawn one, that ends up ensnaring people on both sides into its web. I enjoyed both books thoroughly, and hopefully the series continues! ☆☆☆☆

Forty Days at Kamas, Preston Fleming, May 11, 2015

What is our fascination with dystopian futures? I should probably just stop there and leave us all pondering. Now, when I read this, on someone’s recommendation, I didn’t know that it was intended to be the first of a trilogy. I’m going to say upfront that I have no intention, no interest, in reading the books that follow. It’s not that it wasn’t well written, it was. It’s not that it doesn’t have interesting characters, it does. It’s not that it doesn’t have a reasonably engaging storyline, it does. But you know what? It’s a downer. I suppose that’s part of the point of dystopian novels. The problem with this one is that, despite its moments of hope and triumph in a world where America has gone the route of totalitarian rule with labor camps and no room for political dissent (this was written well before our last election and its consequences, and I don’t think there was anything prescient about it), there’s nothing upbeat, even in those moments. There also doesn’t seem to be much in the way of the rest of the world – a few moments where things outside of the country are referred to, but really, it’s almost as if the globe outside of the USA has ceased to exist. It’s just a depressing, bleak future with no rays of sunshine. It reminds me in many ways of the TV series Colony, without the humanity, light, or humorous bits. ☆☆☆

China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F. McHugh, March 1992

I remember McHugh’s short stories from my avid reading of science fiction throughout the time she was writing. This was her first novel, of four, she was better known for her short stories. Mostly she wrote starting at the end of the 80s, on through the mid-90s, and then one novel and a few stories at the beginning of the 00s. As far as I know, she hasn’t written anything since 2003. And that’s a shame, because she’s a great writer. And, in fact, this was one of my favorite reads of 2016. In a sense, it’s the complete opposite of the previous book in this post, positing a future that, while not utopian, at the very least approaches our future with positivity. It’s a world where not only is there international interaction and cooperation, but that technology and humanity have moved forward, to bring out the best in people rather than the worst, both on Earth and Mars, where we’ve established a colony. The book follows the personal and work life of a young man on a voyage of self-discovery in a postrevolution world where the revolution made things better, not worse, for humanity. ☆☆☆☆☆

And that seems a good place to stop for the moment. There are more to come, and hopefully I’ll manage to keep this coming more regularly.

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Newsflash! Cookbook Update

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Mixed good and bad news on our new cookbook, Eat Salt.

First the bad – it turns out that Amazon’s print-on-demand service, CreateSpace, doesn’t offer the kind of paper the book was specified to be printed on, 80# glossy stock, the best they can do is a 60# smooth, but not glossy stock, and what they’ve actually been printing the book on was 55# paperback paper. So a few people who ordered from Amazon that I knew, let me know that the book wasn’t up to snuff. Lots of back and forth with CreateSpace, Amazon Help, and the publisher, and the end result is that despite them being very nice and responsive about it all, I’ve pulled distribution from Amazon.

While I’d love to have the book get more global exposure through Amazon’s distribution channels, this isn’t my primary source of income and I’m more concerned with the quality of the product. It’s unfortunate, but at least for the moment, Amazon isn’t an option unless/until they offer the type of paper that the book should be printed on. It’ll probably stay on their listings for a short time, and may even stay permanently, just listed as “out of stock”. But the upshot is, I can’t recommend ordering this particular book from them right now. My other books, absolutely, they’re not photo books on glossy paper, so standard book paper is just fine.

As a note, if you did order from them and got one of the lower quality ones on plain paper, go ahead and give a shot at returning the book to Amazon citing the quality difference from expectations – there’s no guarantee that they’ll go for it, but why not try? I’ve asked the CreateSpace folk to honor those requests, but they didn’t give me a definitive answer, only asking me if I knew how many copies we were talking about – you’d think they’d have that info at their fingertips, no?

Now, the good news – cutting out the need for a middleman to make a profit, the price on the book direct from the publisher is lower than Amazon was selling it for. So you can now get the book for $46 instead of $50, direct (click on the button below the photo above). Plus, there are a lot of end of year discounts popping up direct from the publisher, I’m posting them daily on my author page on Facebook – take advantage! The discounts apply to the other books too, which can also be ordered from my page on the publisher’s site.

 

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Eat Salt

It’s here…!

 

Eat Saltarchaic rural expression meaning to be someone’s guest, to share their table

cover-front

“The first cookbook from Dan Perlman, chef and co-owner of the famed Casa SaltShaker, Buenos Aires’ longest running “closed door restaurant”, offering Andean-Mediterranean fare in an intimate, shared table setting. Featuring 150 recipes from the chef’s archives, along with full color photos, this is not just a great read, but a work of art. Destined for regular use in the kitchen, and beautiful to show off to friends. The book is an experience only rivaled by dinner at Casa SaltShaker itself.”

Available by direct order right now – it always takes retail services a couple of weeks to pick things up – but why wait? Order yours now!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

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