April 2012 Archives

Book Review: City Of Thieves

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City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff
My rating: ★★★★★

Let me say this up front, City Of Thieves is one of my favorite books from the past couple of years. This audiobook had me laughing, crying, horrified, amazed and uplifted all the way through, and totally enthralled me during my long drive to Florida. An absolute stunner, and one I recommend to everyone.

City Of Thieves tells the story of Lev and Koyla, two guys trying to survive the German siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during World War 2. They meet in jail, sure to be shot for looting (Lev) and desertion (Koyla). Instead, they are given the impossible task of finding a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel, who wants to make a cake for his daughter's wedding. So they begin their unlikely quest, through the starved city of Leningrad and beyond, having one week to find this impossible item, that hasn't been seen since late summer of the previous year.

And adventures they have. Cannibalism, whores, chess games, bomb carrying dogs, cold, starvation, deprivations of all kinds, they come in contact with. Impossibly evil Nazi troopers, partisans scratching at the occupation, everyone doing what they can under deplorable conditions. Through it all, Kolya maintains a bountiful energy, an irrepressible spirit and humor in the face of all odds, while Lev, the narrator whose story has been pulled extracted by grandson, just tries to figure out the world, barely 17.

What can I say? The storytelling is simply amazing. I am driving and laughing, crying, horrified and amazed as the story unfolds. Benioff's descriptions of the cold and hunger are vivid, and what goes on is, at the same time, believable and unbelievable. You just never know what Lev and Kolya are going to uncover and what they go through during their search for the eggs.

And of course, looming over it all is the indescribable evil of the Nazis, and, more specifically, the Eizengruppen murder squads, as Kolya, Lev and a group of partisans set out to take down their most infamous leader. And yes, there is even a little sex and a little love. Like I said, wow, this book has it all.

There were only two (one small and one not so small) drawbacks to the book. The small drawback was that some descriptions were repeated. Lev would tell his story to others and the shorthand version was repeated a couple of times which, even listening on an audiobook when repetition is often welcome, got annoying.

Spoiler alert! Highlight to read.
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The second, and fairly big one, was the death of Kolya. Throughout the novel, I kept feeling like Kolya was wearing a "red shirt", in that it seemed inevitable that he would die. I can't figure out if that is how it should have been, both the feeling and the inevitability of it all, or just a mistake. If I was writing the book, I would have just split Kolya and Lev up, and just have Lev wonder what had ever happened to Kolya, as Lev wonders about many of the people he came across in his amazing journey. I thought his death, while splendidly handled and wonderfully ironic in a Catch-22 / M*A*S*H sort of way, was somewhat deflating and an easy out after such an amazing odyssey. But again, maybe that is how it should have been.

The second, and fairly big one, was the death of Kolya. Throughout the novel, I kept feeling like Kolya was wearing a "red shirt", in that it seemed inevitable that he would die. I can't figure out if that is how it should have been, both the feeling and the inevitability of it all, or just a mistake. If I was writing the book, I would have just split Kolya and Lev up, and just have Lev wonder what had ever happened to Kolya, as Lev wonders about many of the people he came across in his amazing journey. I thought his death, while splendidly handled and wonderfully ironic in a Catch-22 / M*A*S*H sort of way, was somewhat deflating and an easy out after such an amazing odyssey. But again, maybe that is how it should have been.

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But in the end, City Of Thieves is one of my favorite books from the past couple of years. I am a tough grader and I would probably give it 4 1/2 stars if I could, but this was good enough to push it to 5 stars. I simply love it and if you don't cry and laugh at least a half dozen times, I feel sorry for you!

Ron Perlman at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con.

Ron Perlman

A word on the audiobook - it was incredibly well done. Ron Perlman did an amazing job with the narration. He didn't really stretch to do the character voices, but he still lent the needed gravitas to the words and added the emphasis where needed. It truly felt like the grandfather was narrating into a tape recorder. I am glad I was able to listen to it for long stretches of time during a long drive, as I was transported to a different world and enjoyed every bit of it. There were just the right musical touches during chapter segues and I couldn't have asked for anything more from the book. I don't regret for a minute not reading it myself, although I think I will tackle it as a real book again real soon.

View all my Goodreads.com reviews

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On Cocktails And Serious Sam

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So we had a good cocktail and beers and gaming night last night. First up was a cocktail I got from one of my favorite cocktail books. I have a ton of books, but this one is really great. "The Martini Book" by Sally Ann Berk is much more clever and unique inside than the vanilla title would indicate. Lots of great recipes, with little interesting jokes and historical tidbits, like the Winston Churchill martini - pour a glass of ice cold gin and look at a bottle of vermouth. Or this joke:

A college professor walks into a bar. "Bring me a martinus," he says.
The bartender smiles politely and says, "You mean martini?"
"If I want ore than one," snaps the professor, "I'll order them."

Bada bing!

I had a copy for years, but glitter glue(!) got spilled on it, so it was kind of a mess. And it was out of print, so impossible to replace. But I was very excited to see it got reprinted in 2007, so I grabbed a copy.

Last night, I made a Mama's Martini:

  • 6 part vanilla vodka (Stoli in this case)
  • 1 part apricot brandy (I actually used Marie Brizard Apry, which is a top notch apricot liqueur)
  • 3-5 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 3-5 dashes of lemon juice
Shake over cracked ice and strain into a martini glass.

This was real good. Probably a tad sweeter with the Apry than the recipe wanted, so maybe I would add a little more lemon juice next time. And probably try it with the Barrel-aged Bitters from Fee Brothers too.

Then we cracked opO'Hara's Irish Stouten a beer that was recently added to my "365 Beers" Pinterest board - an O'Hara's Irish Stout. And this too was very very good. A real drinkable stout, with great flavor and only 4.3% ABV, so it went down really well while playing Serious Same 3: BFE

And we came really close to finishing it, I think. We blew through the Last Man On Earth level, after having some trouble with it last week. And then we went quite far in the final level, The Guardian Of Time. At least I think we went quite far. We played for about an hour and a half until finally getting taken out. But even after we finish, I think we may crank the difficulty (we're playing on Hard) and give it another whirl. It's been fun and the three of us have had some serious chuckles. I am working on a fan fiction retelling of our game that I need to get back to.

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