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.

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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.

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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.

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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.