Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spooky Books

One of the things I love about decorating for Halloween is getting our mantle all gussied up. Halloween is the first in a series of holidays that I decorate for over the next few months. I tend to keep things pretty simple with lots of black and a little sparkle.

We usually have some books on our mantle, but I find that those titles aren't quite the right fit for the spooky season. So I went back to the bookshelf and pulled some of the darker titles to add them to the mix. They're darker in story line, and some are very appropriate to the season like Dracula, but they're also darker in color which definitely works with the rest of the items up there.

Do you find yourself making any book-related changes to match your holiday d├ęcor?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Frankenstein- Marshmallow Brain Hemmorhage

It seemed only appropriate that the drink associated with Frankenstein would have something brain related in it. For this one I did a slight variation on the traditional brain hemorrhage shot. Usually the drink calls for peach Schnapps, but since we didn't have any on hand, I used marshmallow flavored vodka instead. Very tasty substitution.

Bailey's Irish Cream
Marshmallow flavored vodka

Pour one part vodka into a shot glass. Add the one part Bailey's by pouring slowly to prevent the Bailey's from mixing in with the vodka. This is what makes the Bailey's look like a little bit of brain matter in the glass. This part sounds easy, but I found it to be a bit harder than I expected. The picture you see here is my third attempt. Not that the first two were wasted, no worries there, but it's good that the third one worked out ok. I have to work in the morning.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I read this book while we were on the plane. It's short, so very doable even on a flight that lasts less than nine hours. I'd never read it before, but was pretty familiar with the story through the many Hollywood adaptations. Even with some familiarity there were a few things that surprised me.

I didn't find Victor Frankenstein to be a very sympathetic character. He spent more time than I would have expected hiding from or whining about his creation rather than dealing with the problems he created head on. I had more sympathy for the monster, though even there not as much as I thought I would. That makes it sound as though I didn't enjoy the book when I did.

I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligence of the monster. I expected a slow, lumbering giant, but instead the monster is incredibly agile, fast, and smarter than I think even Frankenstein could have imagined while he was working in his lab.

There are a variety of things that I think are smartly addressed, though not with completely answered questions, that make this a good read. The first is the most obvious- bioethics. At what point should Frankenstein have stopped himself? At what point should he have stopped trying to figure out if he could complete the experiment and asked whether it should be attempted at all? What responsibility did he have to the monster after it's creation? Surely there had to be a better reaction to the monster than hiding from it and leaving it to find its own way through the world.

That brings me to the next topic addressed, and one that's been covered many times before. There are so many things that we see in the way the monster is treated and repeatedly rejected that tell us about the negative effects of isolation. It's human nature to want acceptance, to want to have a. Place in society. I'm not sure that you can call the monster human, but I think the same basic desires apply to his nature.

One of the things that strikes me in the story is how cowardly Frankenstein really. Is. He never tells anyone about his connection to and his role in so much senseless violence. I think the argument can be made that in some way he is the cause for everything that happens, but I don't think you can remove all the blame from the monster. Making Frankenstein the cause implies that the monster couldn't be accountable for his own actions, and I think he's too smart for that. It would be like absolving all of us for what we do and instead punishing our parents for our actions. It's unfair to them and offensive to us.

There are a lot of things not to like about the characters in this book, and a lot of questions that may or may not be answered to every readers satisfaction. With that in mind, I think it's worth the read, especially if there's an opportunity to discuss the ideas presented and the implications that something written nearly 200 years ago still has today.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Turn of the Screw: Screwdriver

I'm sure no one is shocked that the drink I chose for The Turn of the Screw is a screwdriver. I wanted to stick with a classic drink to go with this classic novel. Since there's a twist in the story, I added a subtle twist to the recipe.

Orange Juice
Cranberry-Orange Vodka

Add ice to a tall glass. Pour in 1 to 2 ounces of the vodka. Fill with orange juice.

It's not terribly strong, but the flavor was great. A bit richer than the normal screwdriver, it was almost a blood-orange flavor. Very appropriate for a scary story leading up to Halloween. Our cranberry-orange vodka was made by some friends. I'd make a variation of this with regular vodka, orange juice and cranberry juice. You'd get the same flavor with that blend.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Turn of the Screw

There's something about October that makes me want to read scary stories. I love Halloween and I find that I get in a spooky sort of mood pretty early on in the month. Since I was also in the middle of prepping for a trip to the UK, it made sense that I'd be drawn to a story that took place in England.

A man has been given charge of his niece and nephew, Flora and Miles, after their parents die. He hires a governess to look after them at an estate in Essex. He leaves them completely in her care and makes it very clear that he doesn't want to be disturbed with the details of their care. She meets the children and is quickly charmed by both of them. The boy has returned from boarding school along with notice that he's actually been expelled. This is the first of several situations that has no full explanation. The governess develops a theory that it must be a horrible circumstance leading up to the expulsion, and she begins to look at the children differently.

The governess begins to see and hear things that don't make sense. Figures appear at windows and in hallways, even on the balconies of the house. they seem  to have some sinister connection to the children. What makes them sinister is their ordinariness. It's the every day nature of the ghosts that makes them frightening. The ghosts are the previous governess and one of the male employees who had a relationship with each other, and both passed away. Again, nothing is spelled out entirely, but there are many implications made about these two people, their relationship with each other, and their conduct towards the children and the other members of the household.

The governess convinces herself that these ghosts are after the children and mean to take them away. She confronts Flora about seeing her with the ghost of the former governess and Flora denies any sort of contact with or existence of a ghost. She turns against the governess and says she never wants to see her again. The governess and the housekeeper agree that the girl should go be with her uncle for a time. The governess and Miles are alone later that night and the other ghost appears. The governess tries to persuade the boy that he's not under the ghost's control only to find that he has died in her arms.

The thing I enjoyed most about The turn of the Screw by Henry James is the same thing that many readers don't like. You just never know if what the governess sees is real. There's no explanation at the end, there's no nice tying up of the loose ends, there's no tidy closure. You as the reader are left guessing whether everything the governess thinks she saw actually happened or if she had some sort of breakdown and put the children in danger herself.

I have to be honest when I say that I'm not sure which answer I think is real. I like the idea of the governess going insane or even just starting off that way. The more I think about it, the more I like that it isn't completely answered. I think what makes the work stand out from so many other stories and still interesting over 100 years after it was written is that the mystery is left unsolved. Solving it would take away something essential to the story.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Vacation Reading

The Big Guy and I are on vacation right now. We're celebrating our fifth anniversary with a trip through England and Scotland. While there are a ton of things we're doing on the trip, I'm still finding some time to read. So no reviews this week, but plenty to come. Cheers!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Orange is the New Black: Stout Float

There's a scene in Orange is the New Black that really stood out for me. Early on during her stay, Piper befriends another inmate and the two share root beer floats. The simplicity of the actions, but the complexity of their meaning and impact were a stark contrast. I think it gets to everything that we've been taught to expect from prison based on what we see in TV and movies, as compared to the realities that actually exist.

For my take on the cocktail for this book, I made stout floats. Not every stout is a good one to use with ice cream. Look for something that will be a little bit sweeter. An oatmeal stout is good, as are vanilla or chocolate stouts. The Big Guy and I tried two different stouts and each liked one better, so there's definitely some personal preference involved. Don't be afraid to experiment with this one!

Vanilla Ice Cream
Stout (We used Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti by Great Divide and Bona Fide Russian Imperial Stout by 4 Hands Brewing)

Scoop ice cream into a glass. Pour stout over ice cream. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Orange is the New Black

I have to admit, I watched the TV show first. After the first few episodes I was hooked. I loved the portrayal of each woman as a unique individual, made up of so much more than just the actions that wound up putting her in prison. I think it's easy to see only the crime and not the whole person- especially with the women in this story.

Image Source
That same tone and approach carried through the book as well. Obviously not all of the people and the stories are the same as what was portrayed on the TV show, but there's so much heart in each of them. I was struck by the need for belonging that everyone had. Whether you're known mostly by your name or a number, you're still a human being with all the same needs and desires. It came across through the book as though the most frightening aspect of prison is the prospect of losing that humanity. It can't be an easy experience, and I won't insult anyone who's been through it by trying to pretend that I understand.

Now that's not to say that I disagree with the need for some sort of system that punishes those who commit crimes. I think consequences are important. I also think they need to be the right consequences. Some of the women in the prison, and arguably the author herself, weren't given the right consequences for their crimes. I think it's difficult to know what is the right consequence in each case, but I do think that the system should be built more on rehabilitation and providing the tools necessary so that no one becomes a repeat offender.

One of the things that really stood out to me was the myriad of ways these women were forgotten. Whether it was by their friends and family, or in most cases by the system itself, there was a striking lack of attention paid to providing the services and the resources that the women needed. So many things that most of us take for granted are so hard to find. Things like education, proper training, mentoring, guidance and counseling were just not available. Or the version that was available was so subpar it may as well not have been offered. That's part of why so many inmates, men and women alike, find themselves back in the system in some way after they're released.

I definitely enjoyed this book, and I was impressed with all the resources listed at the end for those who want to contribute and make a difference for inmates. It's more than just a memoir in that aspect.