Tag Archives: Blurb

Superb Blurb: Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5)

Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher

Noir meets slapstick meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still enjoying Harry’s deadpan humor, charming self-deprecation, and non-stop adventures, but most of all I love how he actually or nearly throws up in every book. I also enjoy reading his recipes for his potions: straight outta America’s Test Kitchen complete with a “we wanted to” style intro:

In this case, I wanted something that would offset the venomous saliva of the Red Court vampires, a narcotic that rendered those exposed to it passively euphoric. I needed a potion that would ruin the pleasurable sensations of the poison. I used stale coffee as my base ingredient. To that I added hairs from a skunk, for scent. A small square of sandpaper for touch. I tossed in a small photo of Meat Loaf, cut from a magazine, for sight. A rooster’s crow I’d stored in a small quartz crystal went in for hearing, and a powdered aspirin for taste. I cut the surgeon general’s warning label from a pack of cigarettes and chopped it fine to add in for the mind, and then lit a stick of the incense I sometimes used while meditating and wafted some of the smoke into the two bottles for the spirit. Once the potions were bubbling over a burner, I drew in my wearied will and released power into the mixes, suffusing them with energy. They fizzed and frothed with gratifying enthusiasm. I let them simmer for a while, then took them from the fire and emptied them into a pair of small sports- drink bottles. After that, I slumped on a stool and waited for Bob to come home.

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Superb Blurb: What it Was

What It Was by George Pelecanos

The story takes place in June, 1972 but not much has changed in forty years…

MAYBELLINE WALKER lived in one of the apartment houses that lined 15th Street along the green of Meridian Hill, which many in the city now called Malcolm X Park. Drugged-out-looking whites, brothers and sisters with big naturals, and Spanish of indeterminate origin, some of the dudes wearing Carlos Santana–inspired headbands, streamed in and out of the park’s entrances. A person could kick a soccer ball around, pay for a hand job or get one free, or score something for his head at Malcolm X, depending on the time of day. Its makeup had changed these past few years, but it remained one of the most beautiful open-to-the-public spots in the city.

malcolm x park

malcolm x park

malcolm x park

malcolm x park

Superb Blurb: Cop in the Hood

Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District by Peter Moskos.

An examination of the disconnect between patrol officers on the street and the Office of the State’s Attorney in its ivory towers yielded this bit:

One police officer described her observations of drug corner: “I saw a [white] suspect slow his car down [in an African American neighborhood]. Somebody approached the car. After a brief moment I saw a hand-to-hand [drug] transaction.” When the car pulled away, the officer stopped the car and told the driver what she saw. The driver consented to a search and the drugs were found. The man was arrested.

The liaison for the state’s attorney invalidated the arrest stating that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car. The officer explained that she saw a drug transaction on a drug corner. The liaison asked the officer, “How do you know it was drugs? How do you know it wasn’t an Oreo cookie?” The officer, disgusted at the events, told me, “They sit here in the C.B.I.F. [the state’s attorney’s court liaison office at Central Booking] and tell me I don’t know a drug transaction? I’m sitting out there watching this damn thing for hours and make a good lockup. An Oreo cookie!? If only it were. Then at least I’d get something out of this. I could eat the damn cookie! As it is now, I’ve still got these damn drugs to submit.”

Aside: This book made me want to watch “The Wire” all over again (man, I miss Omar and Kima) and maybe recommend a good copy-editor to the author. Gojira, why didn’t you help him?

Superb Blurb: Love InshAllah

Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu

Maybe a bit nepotistic since the author of this entry and her husband are friends of mine but it’s still among the best bits of the book and not just for the abundance of parentheses and lists.

When the meal was over and we were about to leave, my mother finally blurted out what had clearly been on her mind throughout the evening: “So, what are your plans?”

Without missing a beat, he looked her in the eyes and said these beautiful words: “Well, Auntie, God willing, with your permission, I’d like to marry Aida within a year.”

To this day, he swears that every future Muslim mother-in-law wants to hear the following expressed:

  1. God’s supreme authority (only if God wills)
  2. The mother’s supreme authority over the couple (permission)
  3. A desire to get married (the only legitimate goal)
  4. Time frame (too short = unrealistic; too long = noncommittal)

With a lopsided smile on her face, my mother said, “Okay.”

Superb Blurb: 44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street: A 44 Scotland Street Novel (1) by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh

Twofer today. Blurb, the first:

Angus Lordie cast his eyes up to the ceiling.  “Those particular churches take a very how shall we put it? — a vey restricted view of the world.  Religion can be full of joy and affirmation, but these characters …” He shuddered. “There used to be a wonderful Afrikaans word to describe the position of rigid ideologues in the Dutch Reformed Church – verkrampte. It’s such an expressive term. Rather like crabbit in Scots. All of these words are tailor-made for some of these Wee Free types. Dark suits. Frowns. Disapproval.”

Blurb, the second:

“Mind you,” she went on, “there are lots of people who say that Florence is ruined. They say that there are now so many visitors that you have to queue more or less all morning to get into the Uffizi in the afternoon. Can you believe that? Standing there with all those Germans and what-not with their backpacks? All morning. No thank you! Ramsey and I just wouldn’t do that.

“But I suppose if you are an Edinburgh schoolgirl and you’re young and fit, then it’s fine to stand about and wait for the Uffizi to open.”

Hat tip: Jill who, to my knowledge, has no blog of her own and so gets this.

Side note: The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is sometimes colloquially known as the “Wee Wee Frees” (not to be confused with the “Wee Frees” which is the colloquial name for another offshoot of the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland).

Superb Blurb: 97 Orchard

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman

The Chapter on the Gumpertz Family (what a name!) includes a bit from a dinner guest observing that a wealthy Jew’s spread included ham and attempting to get the host to reconcile that fact with the traditional kosher rules and regs.

“Well,” said the host, “I belong to that portion of the people of Israel who are changing the customs of our fathers to conform to the times and country in which we live. We make a distinction between what is moral in the law, and, of course, binding, and what is sanitary. The pork of Palestine was diseased and unwholesome. It was not fit to be eaten, and therefore was prohibited. But Moses never tasted a slice of Cincinnati ham. Had he done so, he would have commanded it to be eaten.”

Into the Tiger’s Den

by N.A. Bhatti

January 1999

“To phir mithai ho jae!”

-All Pakistanis as the slightest pretext

His name was actually Sher Khan but everyone called him Sheroo.  He used to stand with his chhabri laden with barfi, orange and lemon drops and toffees in front of Happy Urchins Academy in Rawalpindi.  When the school bell rang for a short recess, kids used to dash out with whoops of delight and part with their pocket money in exchange for the goody-goodies displayed in the chhabri.  Usually it was almost cleared of the mithai during the break but if not, then by the time the bell rang for close of school, the chhabri had almost nothing left in it.

Dam Fortune had been very kind to Sheroo and had rewarded him liberally for his patience and diligence.  Within the span of five years, he had earned enough to launch Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart at the junction of Murree Road and the what’s-its-name gali.  And within the same span of five years, the same Happy Urchins sported sets of thoroughly rotten teeth.  One man’s meat is another man’s poison, as the proverb goes.

I was first introduced to Sheroo by a mutual friend who took me to Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart.  The huge painted board shows a hippopotamus-sized wrestler of the Mughal era, with fierce mustaches, stripped to the waist and carrying the traditional gurz with which the famous father and son, Sohrab and Rustum, went for each other’s blood.

Under an announcement that everything in Sheroo’s shop was made of khaalis desi ghee was a list of what he had to offer:  laddoo, barfi, jalebi, ghulaab jaaman, patessa, ras gulla and other exotic-sounding yummies to gladden the heart of any blue-blooded Pakistani celebrating a happy event.

Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart sparkled with its glass showcases with stainless steel borders, uniformed salesmen, an efficient-looking cashier and, towering above the staff, Chaudhry Sher Mohammed Khan Sahib with a flowing grey beard counting the beads of his tasbeeh: a picture of exemplary piety.  He said he was honoured to have been introduced to me and in all the humility he managed to muster, related to me how he had risen in life from a mere chhabri-wala to sole proprietor of Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart: the so-called fulfillment of the American dream!

What surprised me was Sheroo’s claim that many of the halwais of Islamabad’s Blue Area who sold their mouth-watering delicacies to the federal capital’s elite in fancy packaging actually bought their mithai from him.  He was one of the very few confectioners in the country who held the secret of preparing khoya of superb quality and it was this ingredient that was the basis of all excellent sweet-meats.  He said he possessed several documents from highly-placed people testifying to the exceptionally high quality of his product from the laboratory of Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart.  One of these was what he called a saartifitak from the Military Secretary of a former Prime Minister.  It had been framed and mounted suitably from where it could attract the attention of customers.

Sheroo ordered a saucer with half-a dozen different kinds of sweetmeats to be brought of my sampling.  I tried two of three and although I am not a connoisseur of desi mithai, I put up a show that I was and gave vent to an audible M-m-m-m-m! Maza aa gya! I also indicated that henceforth I’d always patronize Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart whenever the occasion demanded it.  I’d also let it be known throughout our mohallah that whenever anyone needed mithai, Sheroo was his man.  My friend and I then took leave.  Sheroo, no doubt, would have patted himself on his back for having done some very successful salesmanship.

A week later, I paid a visit to Rawalpindi and having survived the Murree Road obstacle course, drew up opposite Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart.  My shopping list included a kilo of mixed mithai so Sheroo was the right man.  Unfortunately, he was out but his No 2 recognized me and hastened to meet the order: Half pao barfi, half pao ladoo, half pao baaloo shahi, half pao this, half pao that…

“Where’s your karkhana?” I inquired from Rehmat, Sheroo’s deputy.  “May I have a look?”

“Bismillah ji, bismillah!  How can we refuse a friend of Chaudhry Sher Mohammed Khan Sahib?  Oye Nikkay, show this Sahib our karkhana and return futafut!”

The teenager escorted me to Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart’s laboratory at the back of the shop and left me there.  I had imagined a gleaming glass-stainless steel-formica setup similar to the showroom displaying the finished products, but never was I so badly mistaken.  In a hellhole dimly lit by a single bulb hanging from a length of twin-flex from the darkened ceiling, were three men at work at large iron cauldrons bubbling and frothing with what was probably milk.  Clouds of steam rose from them as the liquid evaporated and gradually assumed the consistency of khoya.  Chunks of plaster had dropped from the ceiling and walls, some of it probably into the milk, fortifying it with calcium so necessary for human health.  Blackened cobwebs hung all over the place and I expected bats to come screaming out of the odd crevices in the walls and felt as if I had been trapped in a medieval dungeon.

I saw no bats but something else.  At this stage let me warn readers with weak digestive systems to wait until their last meal has been absorbed into their bloodstream before venturing further.  I won’t hold myself responsible for that wild feeling inside their stomachs with the possibility of a good meal being wasted down the bathroom sink.  You see, the flying cockroach dived into…

I took the accompanying photographs, snooped quietly into my car without collecting my mithai and drove hell-for-leather away from Twenty-First Century Sweet Mart.  Sheroo must be wondering what happened in his absence.

Mithai?  Never again, even if it is from Islamabad’s Blue Area confectioners.  Here’s to hoping you haven’t thrown up!