Friday, October 28, 2011

Notes from Bluesmasters @ Crossroads

So, in the middle of nowhere is a Nowheresville called Salina, KS.  In this BFE there is a church, long since defunct, that was bought up by a blues recording studio.  Instead of Jesus, their stained glass has a guitarist.  Once a year they throw a two day blues bash with around five acts per night.  It gets loud.  The acoustics (church, remember?) are phenomenal.  This was my second time attending, and the fourteenth annual.  If you can get there, go.  Then go to the after parties.  No, being old is not an excuse.  This crowd is almost on medicare anyway. 
These are my notes.  And the bands were good too.

*The 87 yr old blues saxophone player is super happy to be here. He's not sure what this town is called (Saline?  Selena?) but he knows he likes it!  This man makes the Blues Brothers seem low key and mostly sane.  He also gets away with calling a crowd of people old enough to be your parents, “children.”  Because, hey, he’s old enough to be theirs.  Also, can he be my grandpa?  My grandpa was good, but this guy is nuts.  <3 him. 

*Fist Pump Guy is very sweaty in his mostly un-buttoned bedazzled Dragon shirt.  He is also REALLY EXCITED to see these bands.  REALLY.  Also, he is approximately 40-55 years old.  Yes, this is someone’s father.  Be sorry for that someone.

*Differences between AARP black & white folk:

- 40 year old white girls shake their booties while getting up for the bathroom, then apologize to those around them.

-40 year old black girls

A:  Dance
B:  Call & response (Amen!)

C:   Know the lyrics

            D:  Dance better, or

E:  all of the above.

Is this a question? It's always E!

*The bassist from the Robert Cray band wants to have the sex with you-ALL of the yous-but then later he will wear you as a coat.  Seriously, this is the best serial killer cover ever.  Blues people travel to BFEs all over the world.  They stay for a day or two.  Heck, if he’s ever watched NCIS/CSI/COPS he’ll be able to hide the bodies well enough that he’ll have blown town before they even know someone’s gone missing.  I think someone should Google the tour schedule and cross reference it with missing persons.  But then, I’m not from the town it was held in, so if I went missing, my name wouldn’t pop up.  See?!  This is made of win.  If getting away with killing people and wearing them as apparel can be considered a win.  Hmmmm.

*Regardless, for 50$, this was a weekend well wasted.  And if you’re over 21, all the performers--yes, even the 87 year old one—get down at the Ramada Inn Ballroom until 2am for the after party.  And that’s free of any charge but what you choose to drink. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Round Up

Book round up time.  This is what I’ve been doing with my free time this month.  You know, all those times when I should have been out running or having a life.  This is the good, the mediocre and the ugly of the trash I’ve consumed.  Well, this month, not so much of the ugly.  Which is a good thing for me, but hard on the snark factor.  It is what it is.

The Good:
Deathless by Cat Valente

So, it's graded lower, but placed higher?  How does that work?  This is where things get unfair.  Apples are not organs and they cannot be judged against each other.  So the A- given to one book doesn’t necessarily trump the A of another.  This is a solid book, and damn near great.  The trick is that it’s not quite brisk/fluff/easy enough to be Urban Fantasy, but not good enough to be literature either.  Since I think it tried for the later, I judge by literature standards, but to be honest, it might get the same grade as UF because while I’m all for liminal spaces and interstitial genre bending, it has to actually work as both but succeed at the highest end.  The book has its challenges, and in places the plot stutters, sputters and damn near goes out.  At others, the lyricism and theme take hits to keep the pace up.  It tried to be both a little too hard.  I love Valente’s work, and I think anyone with a gram of patience and a curiosity about history will enjoy this.  It’s different, and the take on real Russian events is fascinating.  Pick it up.

The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumiere
This is a labor intensive act of love.  There are threads of The Neverending Story, Neverwhere, Stranger than Fiction, Supernatural, and, maybe this one is just me, Labyrinth.  And lots of other things too.  But it’s a good weave.  Despite some moments of “okay, stop that, your readers know these tropes already” thatI just chalk it up to the writer being Canadian. Or something.  This makes a good car book, as it’s broken into interconnected short stories that I can swallow in the doctor’s office or waiting for a tire rotation.  Some of them are creepy, some of them will blow you out of the water.  Some of them are a little flat.  Overall, I think it requires a bit of effort to get the most out of this one.  This is not a book you just open and it opens itself to you.  This is more an open yourself to it and see what you can do with it type of book.  Which can be either a good or bad thing.  But this is the guy who gave me Objects of Worship, and I love him lots.  It is a little friendlier to the uncommitted, and I think you should go and buy it.  Yes, right now.  The internet is always open.

Circle of Enemies by Harry Connoly
This is a series to root for.  Each book gets progressively better, the characters make choices that seem not just reasonable but well reasoned, and the plot gets tighter and better executed with each outing.  They grow, and their personal growth interacts with both the plot and the other characters, which is like finding a fricking virgin unicorn in Urban Fanstasy these days.  This time we get a nice chunk of Ray’s back story, and still manage to further the overarching plot of the 20 Palaces society being maybe not the good guys so much as the only option guys.  All the while moving the indivual plot forward and never seeming like an info dump or the Voice of The Author.  The book whips by, and it will keep you up to till the finish without apology.  These books are hard core.  No romance, no ponies, no fairies, and a body count best measured in piles.  Start at the beginning, because they don’t make a lot of allowances for folks jumping into the boat midstream, (Why the hell should they?) but go in with the understanding that it gets better.  Loads better. 

Coronets and Steel By Sherwood Smith
It’s fun.  But be warned from the gate, buy the two together.  This is one story split in two books.  And the second is still hardcover only.  It’s not worth almost 30 dollars.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but that’s a lot of money for a couple of hours of fluff.  So I’ll just stick to the 1st book.  SoCal girl journeys to Eastern Europe on a genealogy quest (which I persisted in reading as “gynecology” with hilarious results) and meets up with adventure of a “Princess Diaries” type.  Turns out she’s a lost princess, sorta.  Upside?  It’s pretty darn fun.  Downside?  There’s a lot of “we’re over-educated superiority” to be wound around.  Upside? The heroine actually does heroine shaped things rather than really dumb ones.  Downside?  I totally played “Name the Novel this was Cribbed From” a ton.  Hell, the biggest one is Smith’s own Crown Duel, a YA version of this written long ago.  Yet I still like it.  It’s totally worth the paperback price.  Just wait to buy it until the sequel/second half is also available in pocket or be prepared to shell out.

The Mediocre:

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich
You know that old line about the definition of insanity being repetition with the expectation of a variant outcome?  Pretty sure that’s me and this author at this point.  A salesgirl at our now defunct borders recommended the “Diesel” outshoot books to me, so I nabbed this one at my used book hook-up.  Does this book suck down hours of your time with no reward but misery? No.  But the heroine ends up covered in food.  Sometimes I forgot her name wasn’t Stephanie.  I came THEEis close to putting the book down when a Certain Event straight from the Plum novels occured.  BUT, it reads quickly, and dialogue is brisk, so I read till the end.  Sadly, however, the hijinxs . . . not so much fun.  That’s where the real hit comes for me.  The Plum books started out hilarious, the kind of crazy where I’d laugh out loud.  I’d hoped that with fresh characters not tied into the same old loops, some of that might come back.  Nope.  The plot, as it has with newer Plum books, is silly and oddly lacking in either real danger or rational sense.  Some weird things happen.  Our leads roll with it while complaining about their ineptitude and picking up wacky sidekicks.  Offbeat characters take up way too much time.  The end is super abrupt and not all that well thought out.  The mystery is in no way, shape or even pro forma, mysterious.  And the treasure hunt plot line means she intends to write at least 8 of these.  Goody.  The only remaining question is just how insane am I prepared to be?

The Ugly:
Shadow Kin by M.J. Scott
Now, I’m the girl typically championing LESS icky sex in books shelved in PNR, but for some reason, this one felt ½ assed because it got squeamish about the icky sex.  The premise is that of an assassin sent by her vamp master (yes, literally) to kill a healer.  You do the romantic triangle math, trust me, you’ll get it right.  The twist is that she’s been forced to drink her master’s orgasm inducing and highly addictive blood.  Yep, you read that right.  But the weird thing is that the author tiptoes around the slavery, the pain/pleasure problem, and the dynamic of the relationship any of which might have saved this from being more than just a disturbing sidebar distraction.  The author lacked to balls to go all in, and in return got a result that’s lackluster despite the brisk plot.  Warning: this is a heavier dose of religion than I will normally put up with.  The templars factor in and god gets sort of a walk on role a few times.  Overall, it was interesting plot, plus tired plot tropes, plus cardboard characters, plus whiplash plot switches only the CW could love, plus awkward sex(ish) scenes held all together with bubblegum and a novena.  Will I get the next one? I will not.

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tilapia in White Wine Reduction

This is an easy lunch I made for a lazy Saturday.  Good for two.  A nice last hurrah at the end of summer.

2 Tilapia fillets

1 cup dry white wine

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp oil oil

Zest of 1 lemon

1 clove garlic, minced

½ pound of linguine

Sea salt to taste

Boil the linguine until al dente, reserving a ½ cup of the cooking water.   Divide pasta onto two plates.   Meanwhile, combine the fish, oil, wine, pepper, zest and garlic and sauté on medium until the fish is fully cooked, about 7 minutes.  Remove fillets and set on pasta.  Add he smallest possible crumbling of sea salt.  I recomend pink.  Add reserved pasta water to the pan juices and bring to boil.  Reduce by ½ or for about 2 minutes.  (If there is not enough juice remaining in the pan after you take the fish out, add more wine until there is about a 1/3 of a cup prior to adding the pasta water.)  Drizzle reduction over fish and pasta, and then serve.  I serve it with more wine, because that’s just the way I roll. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's Not Like There's a Joiners Fee

Being active is kinda a bitch.  I tried the gym.  Mostly that worked out as me paying 60 bucks a month to watch TV on my couch.  I tried to do things with other people, sporty spice things. But . . .

I’m not in love with team sports.  Because I’m an adult and that makes opportunities for organized team sports both minimal and awkward.  Because I’m not that good and hate to drag others down to my level.  Because I’m not a fan of the team mentality that leaks into competitiveness no matter how low key the game. 

So running is perfect for me. 

The only person I’m running against is myself.  If I choose to race, since I’m not at the front of the pack by any measure, I run to better my own time, to set a new personal best/record.  No one to drag down, no weird “be in it to win it” mentality.  It’s all on me.

But running is not me out there all on my own, either. 

There’s the Runner’s Nod.  The chin down mid-stride acknowledgement of another runner on your route.  No smile required unless a jog stroller is involved.  Even I understand the unwritten rule that you must always smile at babies.  And since I run where I live, I see the same group of people.  We've gotten to know when we run and where.  We wave to each other at races and say hi in restaurants. 

There are the Races.  Go to a few and you’ll start recognizing faces.  Look at the results and you’ll get names.  Stick around for the after parties and you start to make friends.  Be honest about the times you run, how often you train, and when you’re running again.  These people are on an endorphin high and they love what they do.  They want to talk about it. 

There’s the Running Store.  These are places to meet up, talk pace times, sign up for races, bitch about your stride, and exchange best routes.  They are also good places to find groups to run with.  These often have fun, helpful hint sort of names like “Joggers and Lager1” or “Early Birdies2” or “Daddy and Me3.”  The people who work in these places, unlike in Sears, are almost always runners, and they really can help you.  Yes, some of them are subsidizing a running career with minimum wage employment, but most are just enthusiasts.  They want you to like running.  They will not taunt you.

In fact, that’s one of the things that never ceases to amaze me about running. It’s like a cult of crazies who want nothing more than for you to drink their KoolAid.

Try to get into volleyball; all the players want is someone who already knows how to play.  Take up tennis and welcome to the cold reality that a match against a craptastic newbie is irritating and long.  Really, really long.  My all time favorite is ultimate Frisbee.  Those kids are crazy, and not so open to teaching as they go.  It’s hard core go hard or go home out there.  But runners?  Not so much.  Since everyone already thinks they’re crazy, they’re intrigued by the idea that you might become one of them rather than assuming that you’re competition.  Now, there will always be assholes in any sport.  People who think that because you run a 30 min 5k you’re a looser.  Or don’t do full marathons.  But these people are A: asshats, B: few and far between, and C: going to have a come to jesus moment if they keep with the sport long enough.  No one runs a sub 2 hour marathon forever.  Besides, it’s pretty easy to steer clear of the folks trying to make it to Boston.

I was talked back into running by a marathoner.  Encouraged to keep at it by a 1st place finisher at a 5k.  Had my stride improved by a guy from four states over as he blew by me at a ½ marathon.  These people had nothing to gain from encouraging me.

The reason I’m a runner?  They understood that they had nothing to loose either.

It’s why I think you should be a runner to.  Get out, see your city.  Get some exercise.  Sign up for a charity race.  Don’t worry about your time.  You’ll get there.

1Guess which one I joined?

2Yes, runners are freaks and many of them think it’s totally good times to go 10 miles at 5am.

3How bad of me is it that one dad with stroller is cute, but a herd of them is freaky?  That bad, hunh?