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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

News From London?

News From London ?

I don’t just go to London to shop, drink beer and stroll the streets.  Hell no, I come to notice this and that, and to keep all three of my faithful readers well conversant and informed on international affairs.

The stories in this installment come from yesterday’s Metro newspaper and with stories like these, you can give your imagination a rest and pour another Armagnac. 

First, I pose this puzzling question: Do politicians really change from country to country? 

My theory is they all come from the same cracked egg, but served on different platters.  You’ll recall the British people voted to divorce themselves from the European Union.  That was a couple of years ago.  But, leaving the EU isn’t as easy as standing in front of a Judge and saying, “Remember when the two of us said ‘I do?’ Well, now...” 

Here’s a recent meeting of the warring parties.

To quote: The German Chancellor was revealed to have told an audience of journalists that she keeps asking the Prime Minister what she wants from the divorce, but feels they are struck on a loop.

See, a man always loses an argument vis a vis a woman because he tries to be rational.  Women, on the other hand, have no slave-like devotion to rationality.  The reverse. Let’s go back to husband and wife.

Husband:  I think I’ll have a beer, want one?

Wife:  See, you always start that!

Husband:  Start what?

Wife:  See, there you go!

So, what happens when the argument is woman to woman?

Prime Minister May:  Make me an offer.
Chancellor Merkel: But, you’re leaving.  We don't have to make you an offer.
Prime Minister May:  Make me an offer.

There’s a lesson here men. Keep it simple and stay on point.  Above all, pay no attention to the counter argument.

Ok, let’s practice:

Woman:  You drink too much.

Man:  Sure is sunny today.

Woman:  I SAID you drink too much!

Man:  What a sunny day!

Woman:  Are you paying attention to what I’m saying?

Man:  Middle of winter and it’s sunny!

As for Britain vs the EU, dueling pistols at ten paces could settle this thing in a jiffy!  Either way, it’s one less politician. But, wait a sec, these are two women, leaders of their countries, which kinda negates all the whining by the feminist crowd.  Forgot, you’re anti-gun. Ok, let’s each of them grab a fistful of hair and act like ladies.

1 in 4 Skip Meals in Hidden Hunger Crisis

Is there anything that isn’t a crisis these days? But, here we have something even more diabolical, a hidden crisis, which means nobody can see it, right?  People in Britain are getting as fat as Americans, but wait, there’s a hidden crisis!  Sounds like another global warming, stamping of feet and raising of fists during a blizzard situation.

More than a quarter of parents are skipping meals because they cannot afford to buy food, a report on ‘hidden hunger’ has found.  How did they find it then? You may well ask.  Almost 2000 adults polled by the campaign group End Hunger UK found more than one in ten adults said their food bills have gone up.

So, let me get this straight.  25% of people polled are skipping a meal because 10% said their food bills have gone up?  I still don’t understand modern math, but then I cant find a hidden crisis either.

Who is this group of Wunderkinder who can find hidden crises? They should turn their talents to the female minds of Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister May.  Gotta be more hidden crises to be dragged into the EU vs Britain divorce court.

And to nip this edition of News From London, we come to ‘Pensioner bit neighbor in the crotch as row flared up.’  Bet it did!  Did you just bite me or is that a lit Roman candle in my crotch?

Talk about getting down and dirty!  ‘An irate pensioner bit his neighbor in the crotch and on the nose when a dispute boiled over.’

It was a very simple case of the neighbor’s partner strolling by when the pensioner threw a hockey stick at her.  The neighbor went to investigate and arrived ready to puck.  The neighbor’s kin joined in, possibly thinking this was the kind of rough 69 action they’d been looking for.  The Pensioner declared he was not trying to bite the neighbor’s crotch, he was trying to get another meaty tooth in the neighbor’s nose, but the guy moved too fast. The neighbor’s kin admitted grabbing what he thought was the pensioner’s leg, and thinking the man was remarkably well hung.

Everyone in the fray received community service and a possible tryout for a new porn film titled, Gimme All Ya Got.

And that’s all the news for now.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Two From the Heart, by James Patterson, Frank Costantini, Emily Raymond, and Brian Sitts

Two From the Heart, by James Patterson, Frank Costantini, Emily Raymond, and Brian Sitts

This book has a very different format. It’s neither a full novel, nor a collection of short stories, but rather two novellas only hooked together by the cover of the book.  Ok, granted both are sorta love stories.  Although I’d characterize the first one, “Tell Me Your Best Story,” as more of a travel log and the second “Write Me A Life,” as an adventure, with elements of science fiction.  But, as odd as it may seem, there are intersections and tangents that connect the two.

Both are written in James Patterson’s breezy style of straight forward prose, which I like because I’m a simple guy, with simple tastes and not looking for an author who’s main point is he’s smarter than I am.  Once a writer starts his tangle of jagged almost incomprehensible babble, I lose the thread and go from reader to fly swatter.

Fortunately, Two From the Heart is very readable and a quick read at that. Call it a weekend book and even then you can read it all and still take Sunday off.

Patterson’s co-writer on Tell Me Your Best Story, is Emily Raymond and it’s definitely written with the tender sex in mind.  Soft morning sun. Edges only as sharp as the smoothest of river rocks.  It’s all so very moving and sweet as autumn cherries.  If there are touches of sandpaper, it’s 3000 grit and gentle enough to sooth the rash on a baby’s round little rump.  Harsh words?  Perish the thought.  Hard nose dilemmas?  Sure.  Should I stir the cream in my coffee?  What a nail biting decision.  There is sweet sadness, but please don’t worry.  Oh, the tension!

So, I didn’t like it?  Yes, matter of fact I did like it. It’s wrapped around a trip and one we’ve all thought about taking, visiting old friends and meeting new ones.   The book reads like having a series of amiable chats with old girlfriends, without scars and threats of violence.  Definitely written with a woman’s voice. And yet there is something intriguing about reforming your life that makes you wonder if you could.

Write Me A Life, on the other hand, is written by Patterson, of course, plus Frank Costantini and Brian Sitts and definitely has the smell of engine oil, beer and cigars.  But, rather than a gentle rowing across a placid pond, this novella features a unique plot, constant suspense, and memorable characters.  Yes, there are even some attitudes and clarion calls for romance between men and women.  What if someone wrote you a life and had the hutzpah to carry it off?  Interesting concept.  You go to a novelist and say, my life is a very successful bowl of blah.  I don’t care what it costs, just make it happen.

Makes me think it’s really possible to do, but not easy to do.  Take so many of my friends, for example.  Past middle age. Retired.  Married.  Children. Grandchildren.   What would you do to change your life?  I mean really change it.  Not just try for the umpteenth time promising yourself to lose those 30 pounds, or take a cruise to wherever.  I’m talking about changing your FREAKING LIFE!  How about creating a whole new life, without divorcing your entire family?  Write a novel? Maybe hire a personal trainer and cook?  Buy a motorcycle and drive across the country just to meet new people and see what opportunities abound?  Go to France for half a year to write that novel and learn French?  Start a business?  The possibilities are endless.

And now do you see how the two tales in this book are similar?  The characters in both stories are jumping into the roaring waves of discovery and letting the tide of life take them places they’ve never been.

You start to read this James Patterson et al book and you kinda, sorta like it, but it seems to be going at a slow, loping pace.  Then you hit the second tale and the pedal goes to the metal.  You read the last page and not long afterwards you start to ponder. Any book that leads you to ponder your life and its possibilities, is a good book.  This good book sneaks up on you as many of James Patterson’s books do.  It’s all the better for it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Maple, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Hash

Maple, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Hash

Nothing I like better than a tasty dish that’s easy to make This one dances through the skillet, onto your plate, and keeps you warm, even in the chill of winter’s icy thrust.   Difficult?  You kidding?  I don’t do difficult.  I do easy, while sipping brandy.

Allow me to introduce Ms. Maple Chicken Sweet Potato Hash, the celebrated darling of your middle-aged dreams.  So, go ahead and pour yourself that first snifter of brandy while I lead you through this taste-bud teasing, stomach-pleasing recipe.  By the way, it’s a little less than 500 calories a serving and this dish can satisfy four diners with ease.

Maple, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Hash
I did all the chopping and dicing ahead of time and also combined the syrup/vinegar/mustard/cayenne/raisins in a small bowl.  I kept the ingredients covered and refrigerated all afternoon, so cooking supper was a snap.

1 Pound skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut into one inch chunks
1 Medium onion diced – I used a red onion
2 Teaspoons sage – I used fresh, but dried will do
1 Large clove garlic diced
¼ Teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon vinegar – I used rice vinegar
¼ Cup whole grain mustard – Dijon will do
¼ Cup Maple syrup
Pinch of Cayenne pepper
1/3 Cup raisins – I used golden raisins
Spring onions, green portions thinly sliced for serving
½ Cup Gorgonzola or a similar blue cheese, cut in small chunks for serving
2 Tablespoons olive oil. More if required (The chef makes the decisions!)

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the chicken, diced onions, garlic and sage. Stir and cook until the chicken chunks are browning and the onion is wilted. Salt and pepper as desired.

Add a cup of water and mix in the cubed sweet potato. Cover and steam only until the sweet potato is tender.  Add the syrup mixture and heat well.

Fini!  Plate the portions and decorate with green onions and blue cheese.

Serve with the vegetables of your choice.  My choice was cheesy smashed Brussel sprouts.

Stand up, take a bow and grab that second snifter of brandy.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Blame by Jeff Abbott

Blame by Jeff Abbott

Ready for another book? Need a good mystery that reads like jagged pieces of glass dumped in a wastebasket?  That’s not a dis, that’s the reality of the main character, Jane Norton.  The jagged pieces are her life, or the way her life has shattered since she lost her memory and her close friend in a car accident two years ago. Everyone’s sure it was her fault.  Police reports and newspaper articles, and internet savages seem to confirm that.

Everybody blames her and with a severe loss of memory, she doesn’t know how to defend herself or which way to turn.  Some people are nice to her, but most treat her as damaged and deranged goods.

But, there’s more to it than that.  A lot more.  The dead boy’s mother, who lives next door, hates her viciously.  Jane’s schoolmates avoid her and often take their suspicions well past smirks and derogatory remarks in the hallway.  David, the boy who was killed was a popular guy, with friends galore.  His friends don’t forget.  Then there’s the suicide note found in the car, a note that Jane wrote.

“I was your friend,” is heard often, as an accusation.  Others put a positive spin on it.  “I am your friend.”  And at times the positive ones can turn out to be the most vicious.

A parade of characters romp through this engaging book and they all care and don’t care, believe her and don’t believe her.  They think she couldn’t have done it on purpose, then turn on her like whirling dervishes.  Without a memory, how do you defend yourself, and how do you even know if you should?

As Jane says, “Today I went to my friend’s grave.  I went to the crash site.  There were people there who don’t like me at all. The still blame me. They think it wasn’t an accident. One of them tried to hurt me. The other is smearing me online.”  The accusations swirl around her and not even she knows what she did or if she did anything.

In my own life, I’ve had friends who were wrongly accused. Tough to defend yourself if you didn’t do it and know you didn’t do it, even if you have a full memory.  What if you have no memory, or only thin shards of memory here and there, none of which fit together?

Maybe Jane is guilty of deliberately causing the accident.  Her own mother seems to think so.  Many of her classmates think so.  Even some of her former friends, who want to believe her, think so. And often she thinks so.

The main thing that makes this book so engaging is not the originality of the plot.  Memory loss, including complete memory loss is not uncommon in fiction. The main thing is the characters ring-true, even though the book is populated with college students, the wealthy, the middle class, the average, the intelligent, the conniving and the honest.  And all of them are vital to the plot.

You hear the term page-turner bandied about so often it loses its impact. In the case of Blame, it’s warranted. I stayed up late, I got up early, I read through supper and with my morning coffee. Jane’s plight became my plight.  I wanted to know, had to know.  The questions pound at the reader: What would I do?  Where would I turn?

And then comes the ending and in a swirling maelstrom of anger, action, blood, and revelation, against all odds, and through a series of devilish twists and turns, everything becomes clear. Somehow the jagged pieces of glass became a mirror that reflected the good, the evil, the darkness and the light.

Need a good mystery?  You’ve just found one.  Blame by Jeff Abbott.