27 November 2013

Lexicon by Max Barry

What a read!  After finishing Dan Brown's Inferno, I dove straight into Max Barry's Lexicon.  It's the most fun I've had reading a book in quite a while.

From the blurb for Lexicon, I have to admit, I had imagined something radically different that what I got.  I suppose I was expecting something like Lev Grossman's The Magicians.  After all, it tells the story of Emily Ruff, a 16-year-old admitted to a school for "poets" - people who use words as weapons, to persuade or control people.  Sounds kind of like magic, right?

Imagine my surprise when I realized the book was in fact a thriller.  Not only that, it also told the parallel story of Wil Parke, who may or may not be uniquely immune to Poets.

I had a really hard time putting the book down.  I actually stayed up way too late several nights reading, only to have to give up mid-chapter when I got too sleepy to make sense of what I was reading.  And it is dense reading: if you're not paying attention, you'll miss things.  Max Barry showed a unique grasp of his craft, I thought; the language in the book was outstanding.

Lexicon was the most pleasant surprise I've gotten in quite a while.  It was thought-provoking,  compelling, and yet totally whimsical at times.  I can't wait for the next surprise.


Books: Lexicon.  Taking a break from new stuff to do a re-read of Harry Potter this December in lieu of my usual Lord of the Rings annual reading.

Bottles: Got some new stuff from wine club but forgot to take notes.  Blurgh.

Writing: Nearing the 50% mark again.  Yea!

Guitar: "Echoes" still.

Happy Thanksgiving!

21 November 2013

Dan Brown's Inferno - Spoilers Abound

Sorry it's been so long since the last post.  Not that I'm sure anyone reads this...

So, I read Dan Brown's Inferno, the fourth excursion with Robert Langdon, who I still, for good or ill, picture as Tom Hanks with weird hair.

I've previously read both The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol.  Inferno stuck to the established formula for the most part: hooking up with the female sidekick (could Robert Langdon be an incarnation of The Doctor?); uncovering the sinister plot; finding MacGuffins; finding out that some MacGuffins were, in fact, decoy MacGuffins; and the obligatory betrayal by someone close to the case who seemed at first to be an ally.

There were a few twists, and a few twists that ended up untwisting themselves, which was disappointing.

Again, Spoiler Warning...

I was surprised, and pleased, when Sienna, the female sidekick, also ended up being the obligatory betrayal...up until it turned out that she was only sort of betraying Robert, and they ended up on the same side and kissing at the end anyway.

Dan Brown definitely got me a couple times, with red herrings and clever use of pronouns and nicknames to mask the identity of FS-2080.

The most subversive thing Brown did in Inferno - and this is what ultimately set the novel apart from its predecessors, to me - was that the ending wasn't 100% happy.  Langdon failed to find what he was searching for in time.  While the consequences weren't as apocalyptic as we (and he) were led to believe they might be, it was still an interesting choice to have the quest end in failure.

Inferno was also strangely paced to me; it felt like I was doing interval training.  The novel seemed to lose steam in several places, and in others it was so frantically paced I couldn't always keep straight what was happening.

Overall, an adequate read; I don't know that I'd said I completely enjoyed it, but I didn't hate it, either.

For comparison, though, after finishing up Inferno I picked up Max Barry's Lexicon.  After only two days I'm already a quarter of the way through it.  Inferno took me considerably longer to finish.


Books: Finished Inferno.  Reading Lexicon.  It's super awesome.

Bottles: Chappellet Signature 2008 in Magnum at a party last weekend.  It was a popular bottle and very nice.

Writing: Nearly at the half-way point for chopping my novel down in size.  Also in a good place with my query letter, I think.

Guitar: "Echoes" from Meddle.  Actually, technically, the one I'm doing is a shortened version from Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd.  It's missing about 8 minutes.  But it's still awesome.

16 September 2013

Feraud-Brunel Côtes du Rhône Villages 2011

Rhone wines are some of my favorites, and this affordable, approachable young Rhone blend was an enjoyable bottle.

It was a deep plum color, which I am beginning to associate with Syrah; it had a floral nose, though for the life of me I could not identify the particular scent I was getting most strongly.

On the mouth, it was smooth and relatively light, with hits of vanilla and coffee.  It was youthful and assertive, with the fruit not yet harmonized with the tannins - though I did note very nice cassis notes on the finish.

Overall, a good, reasonably priced bottle, perfect for drinking any time.


Books: Starting on Dan Brown's Inferno.

Bottles: Drank some K Vintners The Hidden 2009 and 2001 Vina Todonia Reserva.  Both were great. Chased them with Michele Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti.  All were with friends; I didn't take any notes, but they were all wonderful.

Writing: Still doing research.

Guitar: "Time."

11 September 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Okay, I know, it's not really by Robert Galbraith.  It's by J.K. Rowling.

I was probably as excited as the next average Harry Potter fan when I found out JKR had written a mystery novel.  I was excited for her other book, A Casual Vacancy, as well; but somehow, I've never gotten around to reading it.  I think, because it's under her name, it seems daunting somehow.  I'm sure it was daunting to her to write another book after finishing Harry Potter.

Just as writing The Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym helped her, it helped me as well: even though I had already found out it was really by JKR, the extra distance helped me to approach it as something fresh.  Somehow it brought the magic back.  Is that weird?

Regardless, The Cuckoo's Calling was a great read: fun, fast-paced, whimsical at times, and it kept me on my toes.  It tells the story of private investigator Cormoran Strike, and his new temp, Robin, as he investigates the alleged suicide of a famous supermodel.

A fairly simple, and classic, setup for a detective novel; and indeed, it inhabited its genre well.  The grizzled investigator - in this case, a war veteran with an amputated leg - and the plucky young secretary-cum-sidekick; the neurotic client, in this case the supermodel's brother; the menagerie of witnesses, suspects, and informants; all were classic, archetypical characters, and yet in Rowling's hands they were also fresh in a way I have rarely experienced; the only others that come to mind are Chinatown, Double Indemnity, or The Lady from Shanghai - though the latter two were, I suppose, brand new rather than freshly re-imagined.

What was most enjoyable about The Cuckoo's Calling was how Rowling shone through even in the new medium.  I couldn't help but pick out parallels between it and Harry Potter: a focus on orphans (several of the main characters were, more or less, orphans); the importance of family, and the damage that troubles within them can cause; the harm that a lack of love can do; the perils of unwanted fame; an exciting other-world that one finds oneself transported into (in this case, Robin's excitement at working for a private investigator); and even mean uncles!

That's not to say it was in any way derivative of Harry Potter; it's just that some themes were revisited in new ways.  The greatest similarity of all between the two works was the sense of joyous whimsy that pervaded the book, even when the plot got its darkest.

I loved reading The Cuckoo's Calling.  It's the most fun book I've picked up in a long time.


Books: About to start on Dan Brown's Inferno.

Bottles: Attended a tasting of Spanish wines recently, and have one for Italian wines soon.

Writing: Reading!  Still expanding my knowledge of the genre.

Guitar: Looking at the live version of "Time" from Live in Gdansk.  I want to learn how to play it the way David Gilmour does in that concert; it's my favorite version, and I love the fullness of its sound.

02 September 2013

The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America turned out to be more of an undertaking than I had originally thought; at over 800 pages (not counting notes), it took quite a while to get through, especially since I interrupted it with other books every 200 pages or so.

Even so, it was a joy to read.  Theodore Roosevelt is a fascinating, entertaining character in our nation's history.  What The Wilderness Warrior did so well was to focus on him through the lens of his incredible contribution to our nation's Forests, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and Parks.  There were so many, I have no shame in saying I lost count early on, and had a hard time keeping track of more than a few.

The Wilderness Warrior started off with Roosevelt's early life, following his childhood fascination with wildlife and the pioneering work of Charles Darwin; the influence of the wilderness literature of the time; and his uncle, Robert Roosevelt, a notable conservationist himself.  It tracked him through his college years, adventures in the Dakotas, the Cuban campaign, all the way through the Presidency.  Brinkley did an excellent job presenting the puzzle that was our 26th President: the man who loved hunting and yet exalted the bison; who was determined to have a bear for his collection, and yet chose not to shoot one that had been harried and cornered by dogs in what he considered an un-sporting manner; who believed strongly in preserving nature and yet was whole-heartedly behind radically altering the landscape of the American southwest to make it more suitable for human habitation.

More than anything, reading The Wilderness Warrior made me more aware of the natural treasures of the U.S.  From Crater Lake to Yosemite to Devil's Tower and beyond, our nation is filled with beauty, and Brinkley's book has kindled in me a desire to see more of it.  Hopefully I will get to.


Books: Working on The Cuckoo's Calling.  It promises to be a swifter read than The Wilderness Warrior.  After that, Dan Brown's Inferno.

Bottles: None lately.

Writing: Sigh...no.  But the mysteries and thrillers I have been reading have been great research and inspiration.

Guitar: Also no; been out of town.

30 August 2013

Leviathan 2009

I recently got two bottles of Leviathan 2009, a red blend from Napa, on sale at a good price.  Since they were young but I was curious, I decanted one, which I shared with friends at a party, and drank the other straight out of bottle, which I then took notes on.  I actually rather wish I had done both close together so I could have compared.

Regardless, the Leviathan was an inky plum color, quite beautiful in the glass.

It was young, and the nose hadn't developed quite yet; it was almost astringent with overwhelming oakiness.  It had a round, cassis-laden taste, and that oak showed through again; with time I think the flavors will integrate better.  What dim memory I have of the decanted bottle tends to support that conclusion - I seem to remember it being more complex and nuanced.

The finish was surprisingly mellow, a bit simple, but good.

Overall, a fine bottle of wine, especially for the price.


Books: Finally finished The Wilderness Warrior!  Hooray!  I've started The Cuckoo's Calling now.

Bottles: An interesting dry rose from France; can't remember the name.

Writing: Actually, been doing a lot of Photoshopping lately...but at least I'm doing something artistic.

Guitar: Examining fretboard logic. (TM?)

20 August 2013

Silver Oak 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

I was gifted a bottle of Silver Oak's 2007 Napa Cabernet for my birthday this year, and was super-excited to see it: 2007 was an amazing year for California wines.

The wine was a beautiful garnet color, and the nose was so powerful I could smell it while the glass was on the table and I stood above the freshly poured wine.  It was truly remarkable, with hints of walnut, cedar, and slate.  I could have breathed it forever.

I did not, however: I dove in and took a sip.  It was a powerful wine, with bracing tannins matched perfectly by the wine's acidity, and dark fruit flavors that complemented more woodsy elements.  It was smooth and mellow, truly a joy to drink.

I was lucky enough to share the wine with friends, and all of us enjoyed it immensely.  I only wish I had more.


Books: Nearly finished with Wilderness Warrior (I know, I know...).  Soon I get to start on The Cuckoo's Calling.

Bottles: Waiting for August wine club bottles.

Writing: Still no...though that will hopefully change soon.

Guitar: Nothing new for the week, as I am swamped with work and can't even make my lesson.

15 August 2013

Tramoya Verdejo 2010 - Rueda

The second wine in my Spanish wine club month was the Verdejo from Tramoya in the Rueda DO (Denominación de Origen), a region in the northwest of Spain.

I know I've had Verdejos before, but I am certain it was quite some time ago.  In a way, then, tasting Tramoya's Verdejo was like meeting the grape for the first time (again).

The wine had a great golden color, with a strongly citrusy, grapefruit nose.

The taste was mild, with creamy fruit.  It was not very acidic; it almost made me think of a dreamsicle.

Where the wine got interesting was in its body: it seemed quite a bit heavier than I was expecting, almost reminding me of Mosel Riesling in the way it felt on my tongue.

It was a delightful bottle, perfect for summer sipping.  If I recall correctly, I paired it with some sautéed tilapia and a salad, and it went well, even if it was not particularly revelatory.


Books: Wilderness Warrior, still.  Slow going.

Bottles: Did a very fun tasting of Siduri wines that were drawn from barrel and bottled specially for us at Gomer's Northland.  Apparently we were the first consumers in the nation to taste the 2012 Pinots.  It was super fun.  The rest of the wines will apparently be bottled soon and released toward the end of the month.  Getting a preview was very special.  I wish I had had some money to buy a few bottles, but I'm trying to save for the impending offer for Continuum 2010 in magnum!

Writing: Nothing on that front, though I have been doing a lot of artsy stuff in Photoshop and Illustrator.

Guitar: Looking at improvising, switching between major and minor.  Also practicing tone recognition in scale modes.

12 August 2013

Rios de Tinta 2010 Ribera del Duero

The Rios de Tinta 2010 Ribera del Duero came to me from my wine club in a month of Spanish wines, and I was very excited to get it.  I very much adore the wines of Spain, but have a hard time knowing what to try (other than everything), so getting, in this case, three different wines to try was great.  I will write about the other two bottles in due time.

The Rios de Tinta was blood red in color - very striking - and had an intensely fruity nose, full of scents of black cherry and plum.

The taste backed up the nose with more fruit, as well as hints of licorice.  It was dry and robust, more acidic than I was expecting, and with lighter tannins.

Compared to other wines from Ribera del Duero, it seemed lighter, fruitier, and much less austere; as I've not had a very broad exposure to the region, I wonder which is more typical.  Hopefully I will get to try more!


Books: Finishing The Wilderness Warrior.  After that, The Cuckoo's Calling and Dan Brown's Inferno.

Bottles: Roger Champault Sancerre Les Pierris 2011.  It was very enjoyable.

Writing: Not yet...

Guitar: Not much change; still looking at "La Grange," plus revisiting the harmonic minor scale.

06 August 2013

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

I happened to grab The Lost Symbol more or less by chance at the library, as it was on display in the "thriller" section and I recognized the author.

I wouldn't say I'm a big fan of Dan Brown's books, but nor am I an active detractor; they are what they are, and they are engaging if nothing else.

The Lost Symbol features Robert Langdon once more.  The only other Robert Langdon book I have read is The DaVinci Code, and that was some years ago, so while the character was somewhat familiar, it was by no means like reuniting with an old friend.  Other than Langdon, pretty much all the characters seemed new to me.

Symbol seemed more or less along the same lines as DaVinci Code: lots of geography, lots of art history, lots of architecture, and a mystery that conveniently ties it all together.  It's set in Washington, D.C., and I had to look up many of the places mentioned - which also, rather amusingly, led to several sites devoted to pointing out all the ridiculous errors/omissions Dan Brown made in describing our nation's capital.  The articles were totally valid, but they were written by D.C. natives, so they definitely knew things that the layperson reading the novel wouldn't pick up on.  While this might be forgivable in some instances, given the success of Brown's other books, I'm a little surprised he didn't take a little more time to get everything right, knowing he would be more heavily scrutinized.

The book was, on the whole, enjoyable, though I guessed the twist about half-way through (at least as regards the villain).  I thought its biggest problem was its pacing.  Brown likes lots of little (as in 2-3 page) chapters, which always left the action feeling truncated, and long swaths of the book seemed to be steaming along at the same intensity level.  There were very few spots to catch your breath: it was either run-run-run or talk-talk-talk, and no in-between.  It almost reminded me of watching a serial anime, which are often notorious for just leaving off the action and picking it up next episode, regardless of where in the action the episode ends.  Or of the planet Bartledan in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series, where stories just stop after 100,000 words.

All things considered, it was a good read, though a bit hard to get through at times because of the weird chapters: it was hard to find good points to pause, and that sometimes made it hard to pick back up the next day.

Up next, I am going to (finally) finish The Wilderness Warrior!


Books: The above; The Wilderness Warrior.

Bottles: 2007 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet; 2007 Dashe Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet; 2007 K Vintners Roma en Chamberlin; and two others I can't think of right now.  Many were amazing, but none more so than the '07 Silver Oak.

Writing: Slowly getting back into the groove of it!

Guitar: Looking at "La Grange" still; it's too fast!

26 July 2013

Les Hospices Sancerre 2011

While I have had several Vouvrays from France's Loire Valley, I had not before had the chance to try a Sancerre, so when I saw some on the shelf I grabbed two to try.  The first was Les Hospices.

Made from Sauvignon Blanc, the Les Hospices was pale straw in color, with a surprisingly springy and vegetal nose.

It was dry but balanced, with a tangy peach flavor on top of the vegetal flavors.  It had just a hint of savoriness, too, though it was hard to quantify.

I wish I had taken better notes on the wine; I was cooking for someone and only took the most cursory of notes as we enjoyed it.  It also got used in the meal - a sort of sauce for turkey cutlets - and while I wasn't really sold on the turkey cutlets, the sauce was quite good.

An enjoyable bottle, overall, and I look forward to more explorations in Sancerre!


Books: Still working on The Lost Symbol; also, I finally got back The Wilderness Warrior, so I can finally finish it!

Bottles: The above.  There's another Sancerre soon!

Writing: Still working on other stuff right now, but I hope to get back to it soon.

Guitar: Looking at "La Grange" by ZZ Top, of all things!

23 July 2013

Acentor Garnacha 2011 - Calatayud Denominación de Origen

Acentor's 2011 Garnacha was one of the wines from my wine club this month, and I was excited to try it.  Spanish Garnacha was one of the first red wines I tried that I really enjoyed - in that case, it was a 2005 Zeta Garnacha.  It was the first wine I remember thinking "Wow, I like wine!"

That was many years ago - I think four or five years, now - and my tastes have continued to evolve, but I am always excited to return to an old friend.  Acentor brought back that sense of enjoyment that Zeta introduced me to all those years ago.

The wine was a bright garnet color with a light body, perfect for the summer days we've been having.  It was fragrant and herbaceous, but the young fruits shone through as well.

On the taste I was struck by the refreshing acidity, plus a cooling, almost minty note.  The herbal flavors carried through, along with plummy fruit flavors, which lingered on through the crisp finish.

I really enjoyed this wine, and it retails for $14 a bottle, making it a decent value as well.


Books: Reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.  Nearly finished with it now; that will be a fun review to write!

Bottles: The above, plus I have more from the club - yea!

Writing: Taking a bit of a break while I focus on other pursuits for a little while.

Guitar: Looking at the scale modes right now, trying to get them memorized better, especially switching to the 5 string root.

28 June 2013

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

After several years in the list of books I wanted to read, I finally made it around to Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  It was not at all what I expected it to be.

The blurb/synopsis is simple enough: "On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern."

Yet within that simple premise is the seed of a novel that is anything but simple.  The characters are all so delightfully complex, the story so full melancholy, that somehow, despite the fantastical premise, it seemed to be one of the most real novels I have read in a long time.

One of the aspects I most enjoyed about Lemon Cake was the way the characters grew with it; we get to watch Rose grow up into a young woman, and her family ages along with her.  We see their relationships change and develop; we see Rose learn to cope with her ability.  And yet, the story is never sugar-coated: there is love and loss and heartbreak, just as there is in every family.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is stronger for it.


Books: Reading John Grisham's The Last Juror as research into thrillers, though so far I've yet to reach the thriller part...maybe this one is just a legal drama.  I kind of pulled it off the library shelf at random.

Bottles: Got a beautiful bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009, but I won't be drinking it for a while yet...it looks great, though.

Writing: I have been remiss in writing, focusing on other pursuits, but I hope to get back to it soon.

Guitar: Looking at songs by Imagine Dragons, including "Radioactive" and "Amsterdam."  They are super-fun.

16 June 2013

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged.  And so did I, after about 100 pages.

It's very strange; I found Rand's writing to be fairly good, and the characters were well-written.  Here's the thing, though: I hated all of them.  Like, literally, I could not identify with any of the characters.  Even ones I thought I might be able to identify with would later go on to merely anger me.

That's not to say I hated the philosophy Rand espoused, at least as much as I was able to absorb before I had to give up the book.  That said, I did find it rather stark; perhaps what bothered me most was that the characters being set up as protagonists, as best as I can tell, were also crippled by severe antisocial tendencies, perhaps to the point of being sociopathic or psychopathic.

Only one other time did I have to give up a book as being thoroughly unenjoyable to me, and that was Gravity's Rainbow last year.  Much like Atlas Shrugged, I had hoped to finish it, as it's considered an important work; that said, my time is important, too, and there are other important works I could no doubt be reading and enjoying with my time, rather than slogging through the book out of a sense of obligation.

I suppose I might come back to it in the future; perhaps time will make it more palatable to me.  We'll see, I guess.


Books: Gave up on Atlas Shrugged and moving on to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which is already proving quite enjoyable.  Still waiting for The Wilderness Warrior to be available again so I can finish the last bit of it.

Bottles: Had some Cava last night, but nothing too much for a while.  Waiting for more wine club selections right now.

Writing: Working on letters and slowly slogging away at some sketches for SnD.  Need to read some John Grisham, too.  I'll probably take some with me to Florida when I go for a week.

Guitar: Still looking at "Marooned."

06 June 2013

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

On the cover of Stormdancer is the following blurb:

“What’s that?  You say you’ve got a Japanese steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist?  I’m afraid I missed everything you said after ‘Japanese steampunk.’  That’s all I really needed to hear.”  -- Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestselling author

So yeah...they probably couldn’t have picked a better blurb.  That summed things up quite nicely.

Stormdancer was a fun read, though it took me a little while to get into it: though the book had a glossary at the back to help you with the unfamiliar Japanese terms, I didn’t actually discover that until after I had already finished the book.  There was no table of contents to hint that there was anything lurking back there, either.  That’s more of an editorial quibble, I suppose.  But it would have helped.

Regardless, the characters and world of Stormdancer were richly realized, and, aside from the occasional vocabulary hiccups, quite immersive.  It was at once strange and familiar, unique and yet perfectly informed by what’s come before.  It kind of made me think of what would happen if Steamboy, Akira, and Eragon were all put into a blender together, and then went through a gender change.

Kristoff also explored a moral area that western readers are perhaps less familiar with: the Code of Bushido plays a large part in the story, and the morality that goes along with it is at the heart of the story.  What are oaths to a liar worth?  Can honor be found in serving a dishonorable lord?  These are questions that permeate Stormdancer.

I thought the approach to romance in the novel was interesting as well.  There was no puppy love, and not really any love triangle either: the protagonist knew what she wanted and went after it, and there were some surprisingly adult decisions made along the way, both by the character and by the author.  It was a refreshing choice, when so many novels with female protagonists dwell so much on the “which one will she choose?” sort of love triangle.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stormdancer and look forward to its sequel.  Now...time to finally finish The Wilderness Warrior.


Books: Waiting for The Wilderness Warrior to return, so starting on Atlas Shrugged.

Bottles: Had a glass of La Vieille Ferme's red wine with dinner last night because I cooked with it...didn't make any tasting notes.

Writing: Been too busy moving to write any!

Guitar: Been too busy moving for guitar!  But now that I'm finally moved in, going back to "Marooned."

27 May 2013

Joseph Burrier Pouilly-Fuisse Classique Chateau de Beauregard 2006

Well, that bottle is rather a mouthful to write out.

I happen to love white Burgundy, so whenever I get to try a new one I'm always happy, and that this one came from my wine club was even better, because that means it's affordable, though not always readily available.

The wine was straw colored, with a mineral nose that had delicate floral hints to it.  I could have lived in the nose.  Did I mention how much I love white Burgundy?

The taste was restrained, with the butteriness I love balanced nicely by the fruit.  It was delectable, with hints of peach on the finish.  Truly one of the finer Puilly-Fuisses that I've tried.

I recently tried another white Burgundy as well...it was so terrible I poured out the bottle after the first sip and forgot to write it down.  Certainly, it was inferior to Joseph Burrier's.  Nonetheless I look forward to trying more white Burgundies in the future!


Books: Finished Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, and I'm 75% done with The Wilderness Warrior and going to return to it shortly.

Bottles: Opened a bottle of 2010 Continuum with friends.  It was breathtaking.  My thoughts on it are soon to come.

Writing: Been taking a bit of a break as I get ready to move apartments.  Once that's done, it's back to Stand N Deliver.

Guitar: Working on "Marooned," which is really fun.

14 May 2013

Defending Jacob by William Landay

I finished Defending Jacob a few weeks ago, but it has taken me a while to process it and get to a point where I felt I could talk about it coherently.  Incidentally, I'm back at The Wilderness Warrior, and nearing the three-quarters mark.  T.R. is currently in his second term and just finished his wolf hunt in the Oklahoma Territory.

A confession: I used to be addicted to Law & Order.  All of them.  Back when I was in college TNT used to run L&O reruns pretty much all day long, so whenever I was in my room doing homework or whatever, L&O was on in the background.  I used to watch every new episode of it, plus SVU and Criminal Intent, and even the short-lived Trial by Jury.  Obviously this was a while ago...

So, coming at a novel like Defending Jacob, I could not help sometimes reading it through the lens of so many hours of L&O.  Even so, Defending Jacob was different: truly unexpected at several turns, and a very gripping read.

The premise is simple enough: Andy Barber, an assistant DA in a small town close to Boston, MA, gets assigned to investigate the murder of a classmate of his son, Jacob, only for his son to end up as the prime suspect.

The execution is far from simple, though, bringing in all kinds of philosophical quandaries: nature vs. nurture, the roles (and responsibilities) of parents, personal loyalty...the list goes on.  I find it hard to be too specific without risking giving things away, and even though I'm pretty sure no one reads this blog, I would hate to be a spoiler.

Anyway, through it all, Landay kept me guessing.  I suppose you could say there were more than one Law & Order Twist.  Certainly, the ending, more than anything, left me a little shaken.  Even now I'm not entirely sure what I think about it.  Truth be told, I wish some of my friends had read the book, so I could talk to them about it.  Oh well.


Books: The above; and almost 75% done with The Wilderness Warrior.  Only 230 pages left!

Bottles: Some good ones: Joseph Burrier Pouilly-Fuisse Classique and Continuum 2010(!!!!).  The Continuum was especially amazing.

Writing: Still querying about Into the Shining Sun, and otherwise working on sketches for Stand N Deliver.  Which continues to amuse me.  I actually got a few books on songwriting to support it.  So far I've just written one song for it.

Guitar: Nearly done fixing the tabs for "Marooned," so going to look at that soon!  Meanwhile, I soldered some patch cables for my pedal board a bit wrong, so I can pick up ESPN Radio on my amp when I use the pedal board.  Fun times.

21 April 2013

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve 2008

I went to Plaza III - The Steakhouse for a birthday celebration with friends, and while there we enjoyed two bottles of Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve 2008, an exceptional Pinot Noir from Oregon.

I've been trying to explore more of the great Pinots coming out of Oregon lately, so this was an excellent chance to enjoy one of the most consistently good wineries of the state.

The wine had a delicate ruby color, and a wonderfully light body.  The nose was so meaty it was heaven.  There was even a hint of smoke to it, which boded well for its pairing with the filet mignon au poivre that I ate with it.

The flavor was oaky and herbaceous, which was kind of surprising to me - not something I'd encountered before, that I could recall at least, but it was extremely pleasing.  It had a wonderful balance, with a backbone of tannin that was far from overpowering, but instead tied the entire wine together.

I loved it, and so did everyone else.  I look forward to trying more of Domaine Serene's offerings!


Books: Still on Wilderness Warrior; getting closer to his assumption of the Presidency, I think.

Bottles: The above, plus a nice Pouilly-Fuisse from Chateau de Beauregard.

Writing: Working on some sketches for Stand n Deliver, plus writing some songs for it.  Pretty fun!

Guitar: My new Butler Tube Driver should get here tomorrow, plus my new Seymour Duncan SSL-5 pickup...yea!

19 April 2013

Anima Chardonnay

I was at Michael Smith Restaurant here in KC and looking at their wines by the glass when I saw something I had never seen: wines from Romania.  I decided to get one to try, and settled on the Anima Chardonnay.  I'm not sure what vintage, but I expect 2008-2010 to be the most likely years.

At first glance I could tell it was not typical chardonnay: it was a golden, sort of egg-yolk color.  It had a nose full of honey and apricot jam, neither of which are scents I've come to associate with Chardonnay.  It was not unpleasant, though.

Upon tasting, the wine was fruity and light-bodied.  Though it had that essence of Chardonnay, it almost reminded me of a Pinot Grigio in how light it was on the tongue.  It had a much higher acidity than I was expecting, and it wasn't very dry at all.  I suspect it was aged in steel and not oak, as I could detect none of the usual characteristics of oaked Chardonnay.

An unusual wine, all in all, but an enjoyable one.  I will keep my eye peeled for more Romanian wines in the future.


Books: Still working on The Wilderness Warrior.  Also saw an amusing series in the library called the Tea Shop Mystery series.  Loving tea, I admit my curiosity was aroused.

Bottles: Anima Chardonnay!  Got a few new bottles to try from The Cellar Rat as well.

Writing: Have my first query ready to send; I'm just waiting to make sure the formatting doesn't get wonky across different email clients.

Guitar: Got a bunch of pedals...which I probably should not have done...as well as a new bridge pickup.  Can't wait to try them out.

12 April 2013

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne

Well, I hit about a quarter of the way through The Wilderness Warrior and decided it was time for a short intermission, so I read The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, which I had come across reviewed in Entertainment Weekly a while back.  It seemed both amusing and relevant to my next project, so I got it from the library and read it.

It was, surprisingly, one of the most thought-provoking reads I've had in a long time.  On the one hand, it was exactly what it promised to be, a sort of examination/parody of the phenomenon of child singers like Justin Bieber; on the other hand, it surprised the hell out of me in a lot of ways, building up to one thing and then leading into another.  I am hesitant to give away too much, but I am comfortable saying that it took a surprisingly frank look at the motivations and circumstances of fame, and how it can change people.

I think the most impressive thing about the book was, to me, the masterful use of subtext by the author. I can only dream of so effectively portraying psychological conditions, like fear of abandonment, without ever being on the nose or even directly addressing them.  You can just tell that's what's going through the character's mind.

The ending was quite a surprise to me, too: it completely pulled the wool over my eyes, and was so poignant it had me thinking about it long after I'd finished the book.

I'm really glad I read this book; not only was it a great read, but it will come in handy for my next project, which I won't say much on other than it involves the music industry as well.


Books: The above.  Back to The Wilderness Warrior.  I am fairly sure I am nearing the formation of the Rough Riders; the last chapter I read was about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where TR's Boone and Crockett Club had a log cabin built.

Bottles: My Continuum 2010 arrived!  Haven't opened yet but they look beautiful.  Can't wait to taste them!!!  I also drank some Sangre de Toro, a Spanish wine that I've had before in sangria but never tasted by itself.  It was all right but not noteworthy, and I was too busy to take any notes.

Writing: Enjoying doing some character sketches and brainstorming for my new project, while waiting on some proofreaders before sending out my first query about Into the Shining Sun.

Guitar: "Where We Start" from On An Island is proving to be both challenging and beautiful.  I listen to it all the time, but slowing it down to practice it really makes me pay attention to what a great song it is and how beautiful the solo is.

06 April 2013

Food Network "entwine"

I tried out Food Network's "entwine" Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was a gift for me after my mom saw a bottle at the grocery store and thought it sounded interesting.  Interesting is a good word for it.

It had a nice garnet color, but a surprising light body for Cabernet.  The nose wasn't terribly complicated, mostly containing oaky notes, but a hint of vanilla as well.

The flavor was simple and fruity - not unpleasant but not complex at all.

All in all, it was a simple, straightforward wine.  It was not unenjoyable, and the price was hard to beat (something like $10), but all in all, I think there are better options out there.


Books: Still working on The Wilderness Warrior.  Also starting some fiction.  I got Defending Jacob, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, and Stormdancer.  Not sure which one I am going to read first - probably Love Song, since it had the longest line for other holds and probably can't be renewed if I don't finish it in time.

Bottles: The above.  My bottles of Continuum 2010 should arrive soon!!!!!!!  I am super excited.

Writing: Waiting for feedback on my query and synopsis from a couple of readers, and meanwhile started working on some character sketches and tidbits for my next project.

Guitar: Going to a jam session tomorrow week!  I am taking my slide along with me.  Should be lots of fun.  I also ordered a Demeter Compulator in a moment of weakness and can't wait to try it.

01 April 2013

Inacayal Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2011

I got the bottle of Inacayal from my wine club membership: the theme for March was Italian grapes with new world producers.  I really enjoyed this bottle.

It had a pale honey color, and even from the initial pour, without even bringing the glass to my nose I was hit with the smell of peaches.

Peaches dominated the taste for me, too.  The wine was fresh and ripe, with less acidity than I was expecting - but it didn’t really need the acidity.  It was refreshing, though it had a weighty mouthfeel that went well with my dinner: stuffed peppers and roasted asparagus.  Though by no means a perfect pairing, the wine cut through the beef in the peppers nicely, and held up to the flavored extra-virgin olive oil and infused balsamic that the asparagus was dressed with.

All in all, an enjoyable bottle.  I will be sure to describe the red wine as well once I open it.

Books: Still working on The Wilderness Warrior.

Bottles: Had some Food Network "entwine."  It was...interesting.

Writing: First pass at a summary finished.  Now to make it not crappy.

Guitar: Same...

28 March 2013

Redshirts by John Scalzi

I don’t remember where exactly I came across John Scalzi’s Redshirts, but somehow it ended up on my list, and I’m glad it did.  It was a very enjoyable read: fun, fast-paced, witty, and yet thought-provoking as well.  It was quite refreshing after finishing up CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy.

Redshirts is named after - what else? - the red-shirted security personnel from the original Star Trek, who had an extremely high mortality rate.  It lovingly parodies the phenomenon, following a cast of low-ranking officers (and enlisted personnel as well) on the Universal Union flagship Intrepid.

Redshirts starts off simply enough, but before long, Scalzi takes us down the rabbit hole, into self-referential, meta-textual madness.  And what a ride it is!  I am wary of saying too much; the fun of the book is in the surprising turns it takes, and it’s hard to say much without giving away one turn or another.

I will say, however, that the characters are all fun, relatable - even when you don’t like them - and well-written.  The action is fun and keeps the plot going along.  After spending something like three weeks plodding through That Hideous Strength, I finished Redshirts in two days.  That’s how much I enjoyed it, and how well Scalzi’s prose propelled me forward through the narrative.

Redshirts was really, really fun.  I don’t really know how else to put it.  It was a great read and I am so glad it turned up in my list when it did.

Books: Still working on Wilderness Warrior.  It's quite long.

Bottles: Trying something new tonight...

Writing: Been very lazy...writing a synopsis is hard.

Guitar: Trying out "One of These Days" on my slide.  It's pretty fun to play.

26 March 2013

Kosta Browne 2010 Russian River Valley

Well, it was quite a while ago that I drank this bottle - several months, in fact - so I will try to reconstruct the experience as best I can with what notes I took.

I got the bottle at a restaurant in Smithville, MO called Justus Drugstore, which was (by the way) awesome.  If memory serves I had some beef brisket or something like that, with mashed potatoes and some sort of healthy vegetable as well...

My notes indicate it had a light, frothy body, with a rich ruby color.  I wrote down the note “Peppy.”  Not sure what that means.  It’s in the section with the other notes on appearance.

The nose I recorded as “spicy,” with hints of cinnamon, and earthy minerality.

The mouthfeel was smooth and supple; the wine had mellow fruit and mellow acidity to match, presenting a balanced structure with softer tannins than I was expecting.

One last note I wrote said that as it breathed I began to detect maple syrup - whether taste or scent the note is unclear, though I suspect may have been both.  I remember it being a very good bottle, and excellent with dinner.

I was attracted to Kosta Browne since one of their 2009 Pinot Noirs had won Wine Spectator’s 2011 Wine of the Year.  This was my first chance to have a bottle - indeed, my first time seeing it on a list since becoming aware of the winery - and it did not disappoint.  I remember that much!
Addendum: Turns out that this wine made Wine Spectator's Top 100 for 2012, in the #91 spot!


Books: Same.

Bottles: Inacayal Pinot Grigio 2011.

Writing: Working on the summary blurb for my letter.

Guitar: Looking at "Where We Start" right now.  Also started working on editing the tabs for Marooned to use the whammy instead of slide.

23 March 2013

CS Lewis's Space Trilogy

Okay, so back in the saddle with thoughts on CS Lewis's The Space Trilogy...where to begin.

Well, to start with, I read the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, some weeks before I managed to read Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, owing to the wait time at the library.  Why Perelandra alone had such a long wait time I do not know, but there we are.

I would have to say that, for my own sensibilities, the books seemed to get rather less and less enjoyable as they progressed: Out of the Silent Planet was the most enjoyable one to me.

Suffice it to say, I share JRR Tolkien's disdain for allegory, and of course there is no escaping it in CS Lewis's works; that said I found the allegory more agreeable in Out of the Silent Planet, which told the tale of Dr. Ransom's wanderings on Mars.  I suppose part of that might be because it told more of a tale of adventure, one which had greater precedents that I could relate to: HG Wells (whom the author himself acknowledges), Ray Bradbury (technically an antecedent, but I read The Martian Chronicles long before I read Lewis), and others.  I think there is perhaps something romantic about the notion of visiting Mars and meeting its inhabitants; and the fact that the Christian mythology presented was less blatant probably also made me able to digest it more easily.

Perelandra was not terribly difficult for me to read, either; it retained some of that sense of adventure, and I certainly enjoyed the world that Lewis created to represent Venus; nonetheless, it was, I suppose, less enjoyable to me because it spent so much time talking.  I'm not opposed to philosophical debate, but I was rather disappointed that the book descended from an exciting trip to Venus to a rehashing of the story of original sin, this time with green people.  Like, literally green, though they were also environmentally conscious.

Most troublesome of all, though, was That Hideous Strength.  I can't remember wanting to put a book down so much since Gravity's Rainbow - which I did, in fact, eventually give up on - but I finished That Hideous Strength eventually.  I don't remember ever reading a book where so much of nothing happened.  I know that's an oversimplification; and, indeed, I suppose my reaction is the same as the "skeptic" character, MacPhee, which Lewis himself included, who frequently asked why they were sitting around doing nothing, to which the answer was, they were waiting and obeying.

I think this is the greatest problem I have with That Hideous Strength: the philosophy inherent in it, that one should sit around and wait for divine intervention in the struggle against evil, instead of opposing it head-on.  Waiting faithfully on deliverance from heaven is, at least in my worldview, tantamount to doing nothing.  On the one hand I understand that Lewis wanted to show that the strength of the evil represented in the book was too much to be opposed by mere mortals; but on the other hand, I don't think that's a legitimate excuse not to even try.  Indeed, it seemed a juxtaposition of the banality of evil represented by the antagonists: in their goodness, the protagonists proved just as banal.

In a literary sense I suppose I understand where Lewis was going with all this; after all, in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, the agency of man was in fact useful for opposing evil, and his point was, I think, to show that sometimes one has to rely on divine providence; but the sitting around waiting for it to happen just rubbed me the wrong way.

All in all, the Space Trilogy proved an interesting read, if not my favorite; and it was certainly refreshing to see such different viewpoints from my own.


Books: Still reading The Wilderness Warrior, which is quick thick, so I suspect that will be a long project.

Bottles: Nothing new.  Got some wine club wines but haven't opened them yet.

Writing: Still working on query letters.

Guitar: Same projects: "The Blue" and hopefully, soon, "Marooned."

22 March 2013

Back from Hiatus

Well, it's been quite a while since I posted...several months, in fact.  I have been putting pretty much all my energy into working on Into the Shining Sun, and it has paid off, because it is done, proofread, and I'm now working on the long, arduous process of trying to get it out there.  For now I'm working on queries to agencies and hope to have my first letter ready to send by next week or the week after.

I've read a lot of books and had quite a bit of wine in the interim.  I'll try to run down what all I've enjoyed, or at least can remember.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
(Yes, I did watch the HBO series as well...though I am a year behind since I don't have HBO and have to wait for it on Bluray)
Why is the Penis Shaped Like That: And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering (which was way more hilarious even than it sounds)
The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - yes, December came and went, and with it my annual reading of them.  And it was good, as always.
Star Trek: Destiny omnibus by David Mack (because sometimes I read silly tie-in novels, and that one was fun)
Echoes of All Our Conversations - which is a collection of interviews conducted with the cast and crew of Babylon 5.  It's a 6 and a half volume series and I've gotten through I think volume 3.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I feel like I'm missing some...perhaps they will occur to me at a later date.

Meanwhile, the last two things I read: C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) and John Scalzi's Redshirts are still in recent memory and I will be sharing my thoughts on them soon.

On to the wine...several exciting bottles have occurred, several of which, sadly, I failed to even record - mostly Spanish and French bottles which I could not for the life of me remember the name of, and which were enjoyed at restaurants in which I would have felt awkward making notes.

But here we go...what I do remember.

K Vintners Syrah "The Deal" 2009
Continuum 2008 (750mL and, at a later and even more special occasion, 1.5L magnum!)
Kosta Browne 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (turns out I have some old notes on my phone, so I will share them soon as well)
Domaine de la Vieux Telegraph La Crau [red] 2009
Domaine de la Vieux Telegraph La Crau [red] 2010
Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Orin Swift Palermo 2010 (I think...)

I know there were others, but those are the ones that stand out.

Now that I have a little more time for blogging I hope to get back to regular posting.  I was surprised to find that actual humans seem to have been reading my blog, or at least accidentally clicking on the link for it.  I hope they have enjoyed it.


Books: Reading The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley.
Bottles: Drank some Columbia Crest 2010 Cabernet, which I was supposed to use for braised short ribs before I accidentally opened it...
Writing: Working on query letters for agencies, and meanwhile doing some note-taking and research (and brainstorming) on my next project.
Guitar: Quite a lot has gone on in this department.  I recently got a Whammy pedal, so right now I'm working on "The Blue" from On an Island.  I also want to tackle "Marooned" from The Division Bell soon.