Noir, but science fiction

The City & The City is for the Venn diagram of people who like Raymond Chandler and science fiction. It’s a mystery, a police procedural, that involves two cities that exist in the same space but in different dimensions. Sort of. The bureaucracy that governs the two cities is Kafka-esque.

The mystery could stand on its own, but would be way less intriguing without the  odd Eastern European dual-citied setting. It allows for twists and turns and part of the intrigue is figuring out how the two cities coexist. Allow for some mind-twistiness with this one.

I flipped to the end, and then found I didn’t care how they got there

Confession time. I often read the endings of books before I get too far into them. I like knowing what’s going to happen so I don’t have to stress about the plot; I also then get to focus on things like character and setting in a much more meaningful way. Plus, finding out how they get there is more than half the fun.

But with Legendary? I found I didn’t really care how they got there. I tried to keep reading, but just couldn’t. The first one, Caraval, was good, but it might have been enough.

A perfect Sunday afternoon read

Look, sometimes you’re just in the mood for a YA romance, ok? This one’s about a Korean-American overachieving teenager who’s a senior in high school and somehow never managed to have a boyfriend. A cute boy moves to town (all good stories start with either a stranger moving to town or someone leaving it) and he seems to like her. So Desi does the only thing she can – she formulates a plan to get together with him based on K-dramas. What could go wrong?

I Believe in a Thing Called Love was a great Sunday afternoon to chill read. Recommended if you’re into a sweet teen romance.

Why you may not want to re-watch Northern Exposure

With all the deserved love of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, there is a certain amount of “remember John Corbett as Chris in the Morning in Northern Exposure? I should rewatch that,” in the air. But it’s not on any streaming service nor is it for sale on iTunes.

But, I happen to own the first season of Northern Exposure on DVD, so I watched the first four episodes recently. A few notes:

  1. Chris in the Morning is used sparingly in these first episodes. He comes off as a David Foster Wallace type in the few scenes he’s in, which I wasn’t aware was a thing in 1990? But apparently it was.
  2. Joel Fleischman is not a nice person. At all. As a teenager, I thought he was charmingly grumpy – after all, he is stuck in a situation he wasn’t expecting. As a grownup: the dude is an entitled jerk and needs to get over himself. Which leads me to….
  3. Maggie is awesome and opinionated and very much her own person. Her character deserves more than to be Fleischman’s love interest, which is sadly the trope she was unnecessarily shoehorned into.
  4. The 1980s greed-is-good Wall Street ethos was much more present than I was expecting.
  5. The whole Holling-Shelly-Maurice love triangle is ICKY AF. Props to the writers for presenting Shelly as being the one who makes the decision and is in control, but the whole 18-year-old girl being fought over by two 60-year-old men? IS DISGUSTING. It reads more as a male TV exec’s fantasy than anything that would actually happen in real life. I haven’t continued past the first four episodes largely because of this dynamic.
  6. It’s jarring every time anyone on the show says “Indian” instead of “Native American”.

Ed is a damn delight. Native Americans controlling their own destiny is a great theme in these episodes. But Northern Exposure is largely more problematic than I expected. The nostalgia value is nice, but I’ll not be showing it to my daughter.

No one’s a hero

What does it mean to believe in God? What does it mean to believe in another person?

Phoebe has gone missing, and her boyfriend (ex boyfriend? it’s unclear) is looking for her. They are both college students; he has recently lost his faith in God, she recently lost both her mother and her piano dreams. They’re both at a small New England college and they meet.

But then she gets involved with a group that’s a little intense. Phoebe is Korean-American and the group leader spent time in a North Korean gulag. The group (cult?) starts out being about helping the North Koreans but turns into something very different.

And then things happen. The Incendiaries is a slim little novel that felt much bigger. Definitely recommended.

Why are all detective stories based in the 1930s?

Murder at the Flamingo was a promising start to a murder mystery series. There’s enough set-up so that you understand who the protagonists are and where they’re coming from. (Maybe too much? It could have done with being slightly faster paced.) But the mystery is still intriguing. I stayed up too late one night because I just wanted to know who did it already.

DeLuca has chronic anxiety – not something you normally see in a dapper 1930s detective – and Van Buren is a lovely heiress who’s decided she wants something more from life than being a lady who lunches. She is definitely a bit stereotypical, but I still liked her.

I’ll look for the next one when it comes out.

Good vs evil makes a fun read

I totally read Vicious because I liked the Shades of Magic series. I liked Vicious, too – the idea behind the book is that superheroes exist and two college students (one of whom is named Victor Vale – an ideal comic book name) figure out how to turn themselves into superheroes. But something goes wrong and instead of becoming heroes, they become supervillains instead.

And that’s really all you need to know going into it. They’re friends and then they become supervillains and it’s a good story. It’s not intellectual, but it is fun and it invites you to think about the nature of good and evil, but only if you really want to.

Madness is fascinating sometimes

The Midnight Disease was fascinating, and I think I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve seen in person since I finished it.

Alice Flaherty is a neurologist. She also went a little mad. She had a miscarriage and ended up being hypergraphic – which means she couldn’t stop writing. She would wake up at 5am and write, write over her lunch break, write when stopped at stoplights. It wasn’t healthy.

But because she’s a neurologist, you both get her memoir of her madness and also a tour of what’s going on in the brain and the other relevant literature for hypergraphia and its related diseases – especially epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

Apparently Dostoyevsky had hypergraphia; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written in 6 days (Robert Louis Stevenson may have been hypergraphic, but he was also high on cocaine); and Vincent Van Gogh could neither stop writing nor stop painting.

I would definitely recommend both The Midnight Disease and The Great God of Depression, the podcast where I first heard about it.

Orange-chili tacos are yummy

The light in my kitchen is weird.

Yes, these are chicken tacos made with a sauce that is orange juice based. Yes, they are delicious. We tend to make them on the weekend because they take just enough time to be annoying after a long day of work.

5 medium guajillo chilies
1.5c orange juice
5 peeled garlic cloves
2T white vinegar
2t coriander
2t honey
1t dried oregano
1t kosher salt
2lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

Heat chilies in large skilled over medium-high heat, pressing with spatula and flipping halfway through cooking until fragrant. Transfer to blender, add orange juice. Let stand for ~10 minutes, until softened. Add garlic, vinegar, coriander, honey, oregano, and salt. Puree until smooth. Pour back into skillet and bring to a boil.

Nestle chicken thighs into sauce, cover and cook over medium-low, flipping halfway through, for 20 minutes. Set chicken on a plate; once cool shred into bite sized pieces. Meanwhile, simmer the sauce over medium-high, stirring, until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Stir chicken into sauce.

Serve with tortillas, radishes, and quest fresco (though we usually just use Monterey Jack).

Once again, this is a Milk Street recipe. If you don’t subscribe, why not? You’re missing out on all kinds of deliciousness. They’re not even paying me to say that, I just like them.