31 December 2014

High Hopes for the New Year

Today marks the end of 2014. Tomorrow is a New Year!

Here's to greener grass, brighter light, and all the best for 2015.

30 December 2014

2014: My Favorite Books

Only two days left! Time for my favorite books this year!

To be clear, these weren't all published this year.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Winger by Andrew Smith

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

So...two books each by Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell, and three by Andrew Smith.

In addition, I have a pile of five more books by Andrew Smith back home, to get 2015 started off right!

Apparently I forgot to keep track of the books I read in January, February, and part of March, but from mid-March to the end of the year I read 50 books (and I expect to finish another one tonight or tomorrow). If you can read, you can succeed.

Here's to more awesome books in 2015. I can think of two more by Andrew Smith I am dying to get my hands on...

29 December 2014

2014: Best Bottles

With only three days left of 2014, it seems an appropriate time to review my favorite bottles of wine.

2010 Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon "Anniversary Cuvee"

1983 Chateau Margaux (not technically a bottle, just a taste, but...yeaaaaaaaaaahhh)

Continuum 2011

Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2012

Ovid 2008 Napa Valley

Saxum James Berry Vineyard 2011

Paul Pernot et Ses Fils Puligny-Montrachet Chardonnay 2010

Domaine Besson Givry Premier Cru Le Petit Prétan 2009

Plus two bottles that I have enjoyed in previous years and revisited this year:

Saxum James Berry Vineyard 2008

Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2007

2014 was an awesome wine year for me. Here's to 2015 being even more amazing!

27 December 2014

2014: The Year I...Got on Twitter

Technically I've been on Twitter since 2008 or 2009, but I only started really using it this summer.

I have avoided social networking (and the Internet in general) as a rule, because it makes me crazy and I have had problems with it in the past (thanks, IRC).

However, following agents and writers on Twitter has proven valuable, as I've gotten tons of links and found out about all kinds of things I wouldn't have otherwise.

I have had to curate my list carefully, though. I started out following everyone that seemed interesting, and then, making sure to READ everything that everyone posted!

That was not sustainable, and I've adopted a far more reasonable approach now: check once or twice a day, scroll a bit but don't try to catch up on an entire day's worth of tweets, and, most importantly, I've culled my Following list to only those who I truly want to follow.

It's been working a lot better for me. I don't feel like such a slave anymore.

Only four more days of 2014 left!

26 December 2014

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D Ehrman

I have had Bart Ehrman's MISQUOTING JESUS: THE STORY BEHIND WHO CHANGED THE BIBLE AND WHY on my list for longer than I can recall. I suspect I added it back in 2009 when I developed a mild interest in comparative religion and textual criticism. Somehow or another, its turn finally came, so I got it from the library and slogged my way through it.

That makes it sound like more of a chore than it was. While it was no page-turner like some of my favorite books this year have been, it was far from boring. Indeed, Ehrman went out of his way to make the book both accessible and interesting for the layperson, which I certainly am.

MISQUOTING JESUS is, at its heart, a scholarly work, identifying the ways in which early scribes affected the transmission of the text of the New Testament, the reasons they sometimes had for doing so (in those cases where it was intentional), and the ways scholars use to study when and why these changes might have been made.

Certainly, as in many scholarly fields, disagreement abounds, but Ehrman lays out the tools of textual critics clearly: centuries of analytical techniques; caches of documents found over the years, some remarkably preserved over the centuries, others of a suspect provenance; litmus tests for determining which readings are more likely to be authentic, based on internal and external evidence; and, maybe most importantly, a willingness to dive deeper into a text that many people are reluctant to examine as anything other than the Literal Word of God.

I noticed the book generated a number of responses, many of which seemed to view MISQUOTING JESUS as anti-Christian. I wonder if any of those people actually read the book, because Ehrman seems to come a cross as a man of very committed faith, who nonetheless takes the study of his faith seriously and believes the deepest faith can be found by studying the words the faith was founded on.

It was a fascinating book, and I made it through it in about a week (pretty quick for non-fiction, for me). Up next, I have five (FIVE!) books from Andrew Smith's back catalog. As he's pretty much become my favorite author, this is a truly exciting end to the year.

24 December 2014

2014: The Year I...Got Disciplined

2014 was a big year for me writing-wise, as it marked the turning point in my dedication to it. The past several years it's been more of a hobby for me - a thing I do when I have free time.

This year, starting around summer, I made a conscious decision that This Was It. I was going to write every single day and keep moving forward on my projects.

That commitment required sacrifice. I've pretty much stopped playing video games altogether, which I miss terribly. And I only allow myself one hour of television per night (can't give up Downton Abbey, after all). And I only go to the gym for 90 minutes a day in the morning, so I can sleep in a little longer, which means I can stay up later writing.

You know what, though? The commitment has paid off. I finished a novel and started querying it. I finished 75% of a first draft of a second novel before realizing it was fundamentally flawed and had to start over from scratch, but I can apply what I learned from that first draft and I can already feel it's going to be way better. And I did NaNoWriMo and got most of a third novel drafted. It's still got a ways to go before it's finished and it'll need a ton of revision, but it's pretty good.

This month I haven't written every day, because Day Job kind of murdered me for a couple weeks with late nights and overnight shifts, but I'm getting back into the swing of it now. And it feels soooo good!

Even though I still have LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 staring at me, waiting to be played.

23 December 2014

2014: The Year I...Drank First Growth Bordeaux

As there's not many days left in 2014, I thought it was high time to review the year that was.

There have been lots of significant events for me this year, both good and bad, but I thought I'd start off with a fun one:

My first tasting of First Growth (Premier Grand Cru) Bordeaux, when I got to taste Chateau Margaux 1983 back in March.

What an amazing wine that was. I only got a taste - an ounce or two - but I got so much out of that pour. I could have kept on smelling its nose for hours before even taking a sip.

To this day I still recall the feeling that I was drinking the soil of France, it was that earthy, and oh so complex. Truly amazing! And I got to keep the bottle, and now it sits on my little table of decorations. Whatever you call those.

So, 2014 was my first taste of First Growth. One down, four to go: Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion, and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

Maybe one day.

22 December 2014

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Somehow my updates got out of order. I actually finished this before ELEANOR & PARK, but oh well.

HOLLOW CITY, the sequel to MISS PEREGRIN'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, picks up right where MISS PEREGRIN'S left off, with Jacob trapped in 1943, rowing across the sea to mainland Wales. It kept up the air of wonder and mystery that its predecessor introduced, and introduced a grander scope: the idea that not just Jacob and his friends, but the world itself, was threatened.

Ransom Riggs posed a lot of interesting questions about determinism, morality, and time in HOLLOW CITY. Since it took place in the past, Jacob knew the general shape of world history that would proceed forward from 1943, but at the same time, he had no idea what was going to happen around him, specifically - and he had to face his powerlessness to change the future in any meaningful way for "normals." HOLLOW CITY proceeds from the popular conceit that history is more or less fixed, and that time will course-correct itself if one tries to alter things.

Jacob had a lot of growing up to do, as he became something of a leader to his bunch of friends. As the only one who could see hollows, he knew it was up to him to protect his friends. But he was also so much younger than them, though it didn't seem it, and he was out of place and out of time. Jacob was so eloquent in his conflict, it broke my heart.

Of course, the photographs returned. Riggs scrounged up even more peculiar, amusing, or downright creepy photos to use in the book. They were deep and provocative and in beautiful black and white, evoking classic black-and-white films like Orson Welles' THE THIRD MAN.

Often times, sequels fail to live up to the promise of their original. Not so with HOLLOW CITY: it more than lived up to MISS PEREGRIN, and exceeded it, broadening the world and ratcheting up the stakes and driving the reader ever deeper into the world of the peculiar.

It should be no surprise that, since it's part of a trilogy, HOLLOW CITY left off on a cliffhanger. I can't wait for the third book to come out.

19 December 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

It's taken me a while to get my hands on a copy of ELEANOR & PARK. The wait list was in the hundreds for it. Four months after adding it to my hold list, it finally arrived.

I read it in a day and a half. (It would have been a single day, were it not for Day Job.)

I can see why it's so loved, and why there's such anticipation for the film adaptation that Rowell is penning.

ELEANOR & PARK is the first YA romance I've read that seemed to capture - truly, honestly capture - that intense insecurity that I remember as a teenager. Both Eleanor and Park are uncomfortable in their own skins, unsure of what the other sees in them, embarrassed by their bodies and their lives in all kinds of different ways. And the book shines its brightest when they realize that love means seeing through those hang-ups - not only seeing through them, but loving them and embracing them.

What a powerful story to tell. What a fine example to set.

It was interesting to me that ELEANOR & PARK was told in third person, and from both characters' POVs. The only other romance I've read that did it this was was SAY WHAT YOU WILL. And while I enjoyed SAY WHAT YOU WILL, I absolutely adored ELEANOR & PARK. It's on my purchase list now, though that will have to wait until January. If I don't stop loving so many books I will have a giant list come the new year.

I took lots of notes on ELEANOR & PARK. It's one of those books that I imagine pretty much anyone writing YA has to read. There's something intangible that Rainbow Rowell captured so perfectly, and it's something that all of us have to face: how to capture that intense, fleeting feeling of life as a teenager, when everything seems so full of possibility but every decision is life or death.

This book will require further study. And you know what? That will be some enjoyable studying.

12 December 2014

Best Friends

It occurred to me this morning that of all the books I've read this year, while most have had some element of romance and all have featured friends, very few have featured the kind of deep, abiding friendship that defines being Best Friends.

There is one author, however, who seems to include this relationship in all his books. Granted I've not read ALL his books (YET!) but of the three I read (devoured) this year, all three of them had amazing friendships.

This year I read Andrew Smith's WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, and all three had amazing Best Friends in them. The kind of Best Friends that reflect how I feel about my own Best Friend.

In WINGER, Joey is Ryan Dean's best friend. Ryan Dean starts off the book by telling us that Joey was the only one who tried to keep him on the right track. He spends the book telling Ryan Dean to get his shit together - but he always has Ryan Dean's back, and Ryan Dean has his back, too. They have the sort of debauched teenage adventures that my own friends and I might have had, if we'd had access to alcohol at that age (and inclination to consume). Ryan Dean's not afraid to say that he loves Joey. I understand that completely.

In GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, Robby Brees is Austin's best friend. And despite the romantic entanglements that ensue due to Austin's conflicting attractions and perpetual horniness, Austin still takes the time to tell us that Robby Brees is a bad-ass superhero. That's the kind of admiration I feel for my Best Friend. Like they can climb mountains. Do kung-fu. Kill giant praying mantises while wearing smelly lemur masks. Robby is also the only one to call Austin out when he's being selfish - and Austin cares about Robby's opinion enough to admit he's right, and to try to be better.

And then there's 100 SIDEWAYS MILES. The marketing for the book made mention of the "possibly insane but definitely excellent Cade Hernandez." And if Austin admired Robby, Finn admired Cade even more. Finn calls Cade a god. He's amazed at how the world seems to fall into place around whatever Cade wants. But Cade isn't particularly selfish, and he's a true friend to Finn, even if he sometimes gets a little out of hand. He's the kind of loud, boisterous Best Friend that pushes you out of your comfort zone and then follows you out the other side. The scene where Cade takes Finns hopping for condoms is absolutely amazing.

I don't know why it is that Andrew Smith writes such amazing Best Friends. I must assume he's had that kind of relationship in his life - either that or has craved it. Regardless, the Best Friends in his books have touched my life. If I didn't have such excellent Best Friends myself, I might want some of his.

11 December 2014

Carry On: An Essay in GIFs

So, it was revealed yesterday that Rainbow Rowell is writing CARRY ON, the fanfiction that Cather was writing in FANGIRL.

I legitimately predicted this would be her next book this past October, as seen here on The Twitter:

This was actually not long after I finished reading FANGIRL, and so it was still fresh on my mind. Besides, from the excerpts included in FANGIRL, it actually seemed like it would be a fun read.

Fast forward two months, and an article appears on Barnes & Noble revealing that, yes, that is the next book.

I naturally freaked out a little bit. I wanted her to write the book and now she is. To quote April Ludgate:

I could go on about my predictive powers...

But I think it is more fun to simply sit back and anticipate (breathlessly!) CARRY ON's release. When will it be? Who knows. But this is how I will feel when it comes out:

10 December 2014

Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I am so mad at myself that I waited as long as I did to read this book. It was wonderful: full of whimsy and humor, yet dark and quite chilling at times, too. And with an absolutely stunning voice. It had some of my favorite descriptions ever in it.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME is about Jacob Portman, a boy from Florida who grew up hearing fantastic tales from his grandfather about fighting monsters. Jacob's grandfather is a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazis, the sole survivor of his family, and wound up at an orphanage in Wales for several years, before leaving to fight in the war and, at last, settling in America.

The first part of the novel starts off mundane enough, but things change when Jacob starts seeing the same monsters his grandfather did. He has to go to Wales, to his grandfather's old orphanage, to unravel the mystery - and there, he discovers that maybe his grandfather's tales weren't so fantastic after all.

There's a lot that elevates MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME above other similar books. For starters, it comfortably straddles several genres all at once: science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary, even horror - there is a definite feel of Lovecraftian terror to it. There's the aforementioned voice (example: It was truly biblical; a fog I could imagine God, in one of his lesser wraths, cursing the Egyptians with.), which was delightful.

Then there are the photographs.

Ransom Riggs found a bunch of vintage photographs and wove them seamlessly into the story.

I don't know how much the selection inspired the story and how much the story inspired the selection, but the photos add this reality to the book that is absolutely stunning. It feels more history than fiction.

The sequel to MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME, HOLLOW CITY, already came out - and I'm reading it right now. I'm always a bit wary of being a bandwagon-jumper, but Ransom Riggs has made a fan out of me and I can't wait to see where the story goes from here.

09 December 2014

Dashe Les Enfantes Terribles Grenache 2013

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am extremely fond of the wines from Dashe Cellars. It should come as no surprise, then, that when I saw this new (to me) offering from them, I grabbed a bottle.

Les Enfantes Terribles is a small production wine, and it's the first Grenache I've had from Dashe. I haven't found many producers of pure Grenache, outside of a handful of Spanish Garnachas, so I was excited to see what Dashe could do with it.

The wine was a tremendous fruit bomb, with aromas of dried sour cherries and fresh herbs.

The taste The taste carried the sour cherries forward, along with hints of candied fruits - like in a fruit cake. It had a delightful pucker, due to vibrant acidity, and this tantalizing hint of sweetness. It was very much a youthful wine, without pretension. It was delightful and light and really quite delicious.


08 December 2014

Endsinger by Jay Kristoff

I've been waiting for this for a long time. ENDSINGER is the final chapter of The Lotus War Trilogy, Jay Kristoff's amazing feudal-Japanese-dystopian-steampunk trilogy. I picked up the first book, STORMDANCER, back in 2013 when I saw it on a table at Barnes and Noble. The amazing cover and the spot-on blurb sold it to me right away.

I read the sequel, KINSLAYER, back in June - it had somehow gotten released without my realizing it. Probably because I wasn't on The Twitter at the time. At the time, KINSLAYER was a bit of an enigma to me: I was still in love with the world and the characters, but it seemed at times to meander and I didn't get how things were going to pay off.

Well, I shouldn't have doubted, because everything came back together in the explosive orgy of ass-kicking that is ENDSINGER.

ENDSINGER picks up where KINSLAYER left off: the Kagé rebellion in serious trouble after being betrayed by Kin, the Lotus Guild about to launch their Earthcrusher, the gaijin of Morcheba about to push back against the Shimans who have been pillaging their country for twenty years, Hiro a puppet of the Guild, Yukiko pregnant...you get it.

In my experience, the final book of a trilogy tends to be either the worst or the best. ENDSINGER was definitely the best: it hit the ground running and never let up. There were surprises left and right, reversals that I never saw coming. Kristoff is a master of misdirection, and he kept me guessing all along.

Kristoff occupies a space that seems, to me, halfway between Tolkien and Martin. There's a lot of Tolkien's optimism, care for the environment, and belief that even the most unlikely of us can become heroes. But on the other hand, there's plenty of Martin's pessimism, acknowledging that often humans become their own monsters, that people can be destructively selfish on a global scale, that gods and monsters are nothing compared to the horrors we perpetrate on each other. And when it comes to killing people off, there's no doubt that Kristoff belongs in George R. R. Martin's camp.

For all that, though, the novel left off on a note of hope. There was loss, yes, but there was love at the end, and hope for a better future. Kristoff's own author bio says he doesn't believe in happy endings, but ENDSINGER wasn't a sad ending, either. It was haunting and bittersweet, and it was honest and real and earned.

Absolutely worth the wait.

07 December 2014

Numb Again

Every so often I return to certain songs I've learned on the guitar, to improve them and perfect them. Last week I decided it was time to revisit this one:

I think if I had a time machine, this performance would be in my top five things to go back and experience.

05 December 2014

Méthode Noir

It came!

I ran out of Steven Smith Teamaker's Methode Noir in August of 2013 and was unable to replenish my supply - the tea had run its course. Now, it's back, in a limited edition. And mine came today.

Last time, it came in string-tie cartons with sachets. This time, it's loose leaf, in a special black lacquer wooden box.

In my memories I had this idea formed of how heavenly the aroma of even the dry tea leaves were, but the memory didn't do the reality justice. They are so fragrant, so full of Pinot Noir - black cherry and earth - that it's unbelievable that this is tea and not wine.

Ohh so good!

I am enjoying my first cup right now, savoring it long and slow. I will no doubt write more about it when I'm in a more of a tasting mindset. For now, I'm keeping the flavors and aromas all for me.

04 December 2014

Domaine Besson Givry Premier Cru Le Petit Prétan 2009

I should point out, first and foremost, that I definitely should have decanted this bottle. Five years was not nearly long enough. But I did take my time savoring it - I ended up drinking most of the bottle myself, over the course of 3 or four hours, so it got time to breathe in the glass and in the bottle. I drank it at a Thanksgiving dinner with my oldest friends. Most of them are not into wine so I had most of it to myself. We drank it out of (if memory serves) Nachtmann Vivendi Pinot Noir glasses, so the wine had plenty of room to work its magic.

Earthy describes most fine Burgundies to me, and this wine from Le Petit Prétan was no different. The nose was intensely meaty, with smoke and leather notes overpowering most everything else. It was tight and dense, but I dove right in.

The first taste was overpoweringly acidic, but that smoothed out to hits of loam, tea leaf, mulch, and in the background, this river of black cherry ran through it.

I wish I had paid closer attention to how this wine developed over the evening and made additional notes. I can only go off my (somewhat drunken) recollections.

I remember the acidity mellowing considerably, and the tannins becoming more noticeably pleasing. I remember it being dry throughout, but that the black cherries came to the fore.

It was a wonderful Burgundy, and my last bottle that I had cellaring. I will have to replenish soon.

03 December 2014

Every Day by David Levithan

EVERY DAY is based on a simple premise: every morning, A wakes up in a different body, a body he borrows for the day, accessing memories, being that person while being away that he is himself.

Note: A doesn't really have a gender, but because we first meet A while in the body of a boy who identifies as a boy, I will refer to him in the masculine for simplicity sake.

When A wakes up in the body of Justin and goes through Justin's day, he meets Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon, and just like that, he falls in love. The sort of deep-breath-and-plunge love that's full of magic and longing and heartache. It's clear A has never been in love like this before.

The story isn't about falling in love, though. Falling in love isn't a story. It's doing something about it that makes for the story. And A decides to do something about it.

It starts off innocently, hijacking people's lives briefly to get extra glimpses of Rhiannon, but eventually A breaks his own rules and starts doing things that could potentially derail people, get them in trouble. Even get his own existence found out.

For the first time, he takes risks, reaches out to change things, and it's beautiful and breathtaking. A talks, repeatedly, about enormity. The enormity of love. The enormity of the world. The enormity of the little details in everyday life that we, who live in the same body every day, never notice, but which he never takes for granted.

It's amazing to me how easy this book seems. How effortless. I can't imagine what it was like for David Levithan to write it, but reading it plunged me right into A's world. The way A describes love is one of the most honest and poetic explanations I've ever read for the feeling.

It's inevitable that A will face challenges in finding his way to Rhiannon. I don't want to spoil what they are or what comes of them. But EVERY DAY was an excellent read, a bittersweet reminder of first love and what we do to hold on to it.

02 December 2014

Messanges Rouge Chinon Récolte 2013

This was, to my recollection, my first encounter with Chinon. It's made from 100% Cabernet Franc, which is such a strange grape to me, because it's so like Cabernet Sauvignon and yet so not.

As soon as I poured a taste I was amazed. It was the lightest red I have ever seen, like the clearest garnet. It felt airy as I swirled it around the glass. I almost expected it to fizz up or float away.

It had scents of throat lozenge and cherry candy, fruit cake, and the tiniest hint of spice. None were overpowering, but worked in harmony together. I have to say it was one of the most enticing noses I've ever encountered.

The taste was bursting with cherries too, fresh, ripe cherries. The mouthfeel was soft, inviting, pillowy. I don't know that I've ever had a wine quite like it, but I can't wait to have one again. An amazing selection from my wine club. Yum!

01 December 2014

December is Here

Well, after finishing my NaNoWriMo on 25 November, I didn't really have any time to work on it until this past weekend, and only got in another 2,000 words. Now that the craziness of Thanksgiving is over, I feel a lot better about rededicating myself to finish the novel. I like where it's headed a lot, and I keep coming up with new and better ways of telling the story (or so it seems, at least).

Now that it's December, I'm making it my goal to go back to daily posts on this blog as well. I've got some bottles of wine I've tasted recently that I am ready to share notes on, and hopefully I'll finish some more books soon. I've got quite a pile waiting for me at the library.

And, of course, it's 2,000 words a day for me for the next 15 days, or until I type THE END - whichever comes first!

26 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Day 26

It's Day 26 of NaNoWriMo, and last night a little after 10:00 I hit my 50,000 word mark, which means I WON.

The story is far from over, though. I'm more than halfway done, and I expect to top out at about 80,000 words. The second half is coming together less organically than the first half, but that's often the case for me. I think it'll pick up steam and get stronger as it goes. And revising will be fun.

My goal is to hit The End by December 15. That will give me a few extra days, since work gets crazy for me around Thanksgiving. But if I keep up writing 2,000 words a day I will hit the end before I know it!

The last time I tried NaNo was 2009 - five years ago! I've developed a lot more discipline since then, if nothing else. I like to think I've become a better writer, too. But more than anything, learning to let go of perfection and just write has been the biggest gift that NaNoWriMo has given me. It doesn't have to be brilliant yet - it just has to be on the page.

I am looking forward to finishing and seeing where this story goes.

25 November 2014

Borderline by Allan Stratton

I really wanted to love BORDERLINE. I really did. A high-concept thriller about the intersection of national security and civil rights, a look at the stigmatization of people of Middle-Eastern extraction who follow Islamic beliefs, all told through the eyes of a teenaged Persian boy? This sounded like an amazing novel to me.

And in some ways, it was. The thriller part of the story captivated me. It was intricately plotted, kept me guessing, had me on the edge of my seat in several places. That part of the novel succeeded.

But the part that was most important to me fell flat. As the son of an Iranian father, I hoped to see myself reflected back, at least a little bit. And there was nothing. It felt like Sami could have been any "brown person."

Maybe my own experiences are atypical. Maybe my large extended Persian family - and the even larger circle of friends - is outside the norm. But I don't think so. There was nothing in BORDERLINE that I could identify with. Nothing that said Ah ha! That's me, too! And that was immensely disappointing.

Actually, that's not true. There was one point I wholeheartedly understood, and that's when Sami talked about how hard it was to fit in, how he changed his name to assimilate with his friends better. That, at least, was familiar. As a child I wished I fit in better, too. But it never occurred to me to go by my middle name.

I was a stubborn child.

It's hard to put into words what was missing. None of Sami's relatives entered into the story, but when I think of my own Persian-ness, family's the first thing that comes to mind. I am defined by my relationships to my family. My closeness with my ammeh, my father's sister. How his brothers are all different and all alike, too. The way we'd gather around and have tea together most any time of the day. How all the men would sit around a table and play cards at the drop of a hat.

There are a thousand smells and sounds associated with my Persian identity. Sumac and saffron. Onions sautéing for dinner. A pinch of cardamom in the teapot.

People speaking in Farsi. That was one of the strangest things about BORDERLINE to me: not once did anyone ever say anything in Farsi. That, more than anything, left me feeling empty. I don't speak the language (technically, I speak enough to tell people that I do not speak it well). But I recognize the sounds. I know the affectations and terms of endearment. I know a few choice insults. Even if I don't know what's being said, I recognize the language it's being said in. It's a strangely comforting thing.

I applaud Stratton for his bravery in choosing to write about Sami. But it didn't work for me. I didn't feel like my culture had been misrepresented, I simply felt like it hadn't been represented at all. That you could have dropped a pin on a map of the Middle East, said the main character and his family were from there, and nothing in the story would have changed.

All of us - readers and authors and publishers - need to do better.

23 November 2014

Penfolds Thomas Hyland 2012

Australia is a wine region I have very little experience with, and I have been slowly trying to remedy that. Penfolds is one of the most recognizable names in Australian wine, while remaining one of its finest producers as well. Their Grange frequently tops best-of wine lists all around. I've yet to taste Grange but hope to some day.

Meanwhile, this Cabernet Sauvignon from Adelaide was an affordable bottle and a good entry point.

It was inky purple in my glass, with a heavy, robust body to it as I swirled. Its nose was decidedly tart, with notes of dried cranberries, vanilla, cinnamon, and toasted nuts. A surprisingly complex nose for such a young wine. This boded well.

The taste was dominated by red fruits, young and bright and sharp. Boisterous, even. The tannins were a little underwhelming, a bit green, and I was a bit disappointed, because more tannic structure would've tied it together nicely. The nose wrote a check that the taste failed to deliver.

Ultimately, it was a decent wine, but it was very young and very front-heavy. Would I get it again? Actually, I probably would, to see if age would do it any better or if my bottle was a typical. Or if my mood was simply uncharitable. That does happen!

20 November 2014

The Endless River

I've been listening to Pink Floyd's The Endless River quite a bit since I bought it last week. It's been bittersweet, getting this new album after all this time, but knowing it'll be the last.

It's been touted as a tribute to Richard Wright, and his presence is all over the album, his haunting keyboard work there but not there, as always.

The name of the album couldn't be more fitting. It truly is an endless flow of music, and it's great to write to. I haven't had the chance yet to listen while not doing other things - sit lay on the floor, play it full volume, and really listen. But I hope to soon.

Meanwhile, I've enjoyed it immensely, and it's been great to NaNoWriMo to.

I was going to embed the official music video for "Louder Than Words," but Pink Floyd hasn't posted it on YouTube yet.

19 November 2014

Peep Show by Joshua Braff

Okay, this was interesting. I don't even remember at what point I added this to my library list, but I decided it was high time I actually read it. I reminded myself what it was about from the book jacket cover: 17-year-old David's parents are divorced. His mother has converted to Hasidic Judaism, while his father is areligious (though one could argue, still culturally Jewish) and runs a burlesque in Times Square in the 1970s, just as live peep shows and adult films are edging out the old burlesques.

PEEP SHOW was told from David's perspective, and while that makes it sound like a YA novel, after finishing I have to say it was as much a YA novel as EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE was a MG novel. Rather than focusing on David's experiences growing up, PEEP SHOW seemed to me focused on the relationship of David's parents, their destructive tendencies towards each other and their children, as seen through David's lens (both the metaphorical one and the literal one - he's a photographer).

We saw David's relationship with his mother implode as he rejected Hasidism, a rejection his mother took personally, and as she saw him as siding with his father. PEEP SHOW was full of the kind of parental selfishness that makes you crazy. You wonder how they can be so full of themselves and ignore their kids like that - and yet, you know it's totally realistic, that people are that selfish, that they do inflict that amount of harm on their children.

PEEP SHOW was named not only for the peep shows David's dad was forced to install in his theater. It was also named for the private glimpses into a family that was crumbling; into the inner lives of two parents, and the secret histories they kept from their children and, ultimately, from themselves; and for the unique understanding you can get about someone when they think they are hidden by a veil.

One chapter in, I wasn't sure if I'd like PEEP SHOW. But the second chapter drew me in (far more than the first), and I actually read it really quickly. I rather enjoyed it.

17 November 2014

Aviary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

This was the second bottle in the pair of Cabernets I received last month from my wine club, and was by far my preferred of the two.

It had a dark, inky color and a heavy body, much more so than the Koyle. It had a meaty, smoky nose with leather and coffee notes to it. Powerful and potent.

The nose belied the amount of fruit in the taste. It wasn't a fruit bomb, not by a long shot, but it did have voluptuous dark fruits to it, with a backbone of cedar planks. That bit of woodsy flavor tied the wine together.

That being said, it was still overly tannic for my tastes, and very, very young. It would probably improve with age. For all its youth, though, I still enjoyed it more than the Koyle. So I guess I'm a California Cab drinker through and through.

But I'm always eager to try new things.


In other news, NaNoWriMo continues to consume my time, and with a couple of loooooong days at work last week and my sleeping a lot this past weekend, I've missed some days on the blog. I have not, however, missed my writing goals. So...yea me!

14 November 2014

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

Oh man. I'm still reeling from this book.

GOLDEN BOY's flap copy says it all: it's the story of Max, an intersex teenager (who identifies as male) who is betrayed by his friend in a turn of events that risks exposing his secret, and forces him to confront questions of his identity he's never faced before: who does he want to be, how does he want to live?

All that made me think it was a YA novel, and had me in the mind of some sort of high-school-rumor mill-gone-horribly-wrong type of plot. But I was fascinated with the premise and gave it a try anyway.

To start, it's not strictly YA. Many chapters are written from Max's point of view, but not all; his younger brother Daniel, age nine, narrates, as does his doctor, his mother, his friend-maybe-girlfriend Sylvie, and eventually his father.

Second...it's definitely NOT a rumor mill type of story. The betrayal referred to on the jacket is far, far worse, and it happens in the second (third?) chapter. And it was the most harrowing thing I think I have ever read. I didn't want to keep going but I couldn't put it down.

And that set the tone for the novel. Over and over, GOLDEN BOY left me shattered, unable to continue but unable to stop until I reached the end.

I don't think I've ever read a multiple-POV novel that pulled it off as well as GOLDEN BOY. The first chapter was from Daniel's POV, and I could not believe how exquisitely Tarttelin captured the inner voice of a nine year old boy. He could have been me at that age. I've always felt kids are a lot harder to capture the interiority of than teenagers and adults, but Daniel's inner life was just...incredible. And it speaks to the incredible bonds of brotherhood, and the indelible ability of young children to love and forgive, that of everyone, he seemed to me the one who most loved Max for who he is.

Max and Sylvie's POVs were spot-on, too. I don't know what well of empathy Abigail Tarttelin found, but I could not believe how achingly poignant Max was. And Sylvie was, too, as she tried to figure out the mystery that was Max, as their friendship slowly developed despite the barriers they threw up between them.

And then, there were Max's parents. For the first half of the novel, his mom, Karen, was a focal point of narration. For a long time I thought we'd never hear from Steve, Max's dad, at all. Both adults were vivid, real people, full of heartache and worry over whether they were doing the right thing. But I didn't like Karen. I thought she was incredibly selfish throughout, and some of the things she did were unforgivable. Steve, on the other hand, I found I could sympathize with more, even if I found him incredible weak at times. He, at least, seemed to admit his failures and try to make up for them.

I wonder how much of my interpretation is due to my own gender bias.

More than anything, GOLDEN BOY was a story about taking control of your own story. Max struggles with who he is, what he is, what he wants to be, and who gets to have control over his life. He makes mistakes - everyone does - but he tries his best.

In its characters, in its execution, in its overwhelming humanity, GOLDEN BOY was a transcendent read. While I was in it, I knew I loved it, but it was so painful at times I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to read it again. But now, having made it through to the end, I can't stop thinking about it, and I know that I will return to it.

12 November 2014

Schizo by Nic Sheff

This was a total impulse purchase from the last time I was at Rainy Day Books, my local independent book store. I've been fascinated by schizophrenia for some time, and would like to write about it some day, so when I saw the book and read the jacket copy and the first page I decided this was for me.

SCHIZO tells the story of Miles Cole, a teenager in San Francisco who experienced his first schizophrenic episode the same day his brother disappeared at the beach, in what was either a kidnapping or a drowning. Two years later, the case is still unsolved, with drowning considered the most likely outcome.

Now, Miles is managing his symptoms, though with occasional rough spots. He sees a doctor, he takes medicine, he does okay in school. But there's always the crippling guilt of what happened to his brother, and what it did to their family.

Miles's voice was so clear, heartbreaking, funny and honest. He wasn't foulmouthed, but he wasn't afraid to swear. His vernacular was spot on, caught in that place between eloquence and teenage rebelliousness. His yearning for a normal life came through loud and clear, even as he struggled to be himself and not be defined by his diagnosis.

I REALLY can't say more without delving into spoiler territory, so stop here if you don't want to know what's what. Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone. The We Need Diverse Books movement is making great strides, but neuro-diversity is something I haven't seen a lot of yet. This book is sorely needed. Everyone needs to know that people with mental illness are, above all, people. And those who suffer need to see that they're not alone.

Okay, now, for those who want to know more, read on. But there's spoilers.

I really mean it.

Okay. As long as you're sure.

In a book about schizophrenia, it was pretty much inevitable that the narrator would be unreliable. There are clues peppered throughout the book of what might or might not be real. Miles himself knows that he might not be accurately perceiving the world outside him. But what he never considers, even from the start, is that his internal reality may be compromised as well, and that's a truly terrifying though.

Halfway through the story, Miles decides to stop taking his medications. And from that point on things get even weirder, but it becomes more obvious to the reader that Miles is having trouble. Nic Sheff kept repeating this phrase - A cool breeze blowing through my mind - which was so evocative, it told me all I needed to know about what it felt like to have schizophrenia. I was there with Miles.

I actually did guess the twist early on in the novel, but the thing is, the twist wasn't the point of the novel. The heart of the story was what happened after the twist, after Miles hit his lowest ebb and had to move past it. The book jacket said (I think in several places) that the novel was ultimately hopeful, and that is exactly right. Miles finds hope that he can coexist with his condition. And in one of the most joyfully heartbreaking scenes, he finds hope that his family can be whole again.

I truly loved the ending of this book. I highly recommend it to pretty much anyone.

11 November 2014

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Well. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I loved Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. How could I not?

SKY is Nelson's first book, and readers of the blog will know that her second, I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, pierced my heart so badly I still haven't recovered from it. I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN might just be my favorite book this year.

SKY is full of the same things that made me love SUN so much: amazingly beautiful writing, heartbreakingly honest characters, an intensely artistic sensibility, and the most breathtaking, insanely awesome metaphors ever.

SKY tells the story of sixteen-year-old Lennie (Lennon - her parents were hippies), a girl still reeling from the death of her older sister due to a fatal, undiagnosed heart problem. The novel picks up just as Lennie is returning to school from her bereavement. She's cut herself from everyone - Gram, her grandmother, who raised her; Big, her absent mother's brother; Toby, her sister Bailey's boyfriend; and Sarah, her best friend.

And so begins Lennie's journey toward healing. I have a soft spot for this kind of narrative. I don't know what it is about me. I've never experienced the sort of tragic loss Lennie has, but I empathize with her so deeply. I like to read about healing and I like to write about healing.

Part of that healing is Joe, the new boy in school who capture's Lennie's interest (and she captures his, too, as quickly becomes apparent). It's easy to see parallels between Joe and Oscar from SUN - the foreign air, the painful earnestness, even their looks seem a bit similar (or at least they were in my imagination). And you can see in Lennie's family echoes of what will become Noah and Jude's own family.

Anyway, Lennie and Joe. Nelson writes their romance with so much sweet innocence and passion, and a frank understanding of how it feels to be young and in love, to experience your first sexual longings even as you're not sure you're ready to give in to them.

Then there's Toby. As it says in the book blurb, Lennie is torn between Joe and Toby, because Toby represents such a strong link to her sister. At one point Lennnie even says: if you put her grief and Toby's grief together, it's like it recreates one whole Bailey. Paraphrasing, I know. Forgive me.

Anyway, you can see the train wreck coming from a mile away, it's a nail-biter. I had to put the book down a time or two and take a break (never a long one!) just because I was so worried about what was going to happen. SUN was like a thriller at times; SKY was suspense. I so desperately wanted things to come out okay, and I was so scared they weren't.

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE was lyrical and warm, devastating and redeeming, and I can't wait for my own personal copy to arrive from my local independent bookseller (I read a library copy - don't know why I bothered, I knew I would love it, but policy is policy if I don't want to bust the bank buying books).

I really hope Jandy Nelson comes to Kansas City some time for an event so I can get her to sign my books.

I also want her to write a crossover between THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE and I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, because I like to imagine them taking place a few towns away from each other and, in the immortal words of Liz Lemon, I Want To Go To There.

10 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Day 10

My life is consumed. I spend most of my "idle thinking" time thinking about WITH RANDOM PRECISION. I think about it when I am boxing and when I am driving and when I am sitting around waiting for appointments.

I think about it all day long. It feels good to be so in love with my work. I hope that love will come through in the writing.

I finished Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE today. It was every bit as lovely as I expected. I imagine Jandy Nelson's photo is in the dictionary next to the definition of metaphor, because it seems like she invented the technique herself and I am blown away over and over and over again by how beautifully she captures every thought, every feeling, that her characters experience.

I am super jealous.

I will hit 20,000 words before I got to bed tonight. I'm already 5,000 words further than the only other time I tried to do NaNo. I didn't have the discipline then that I do now. I am going to win this thing.

And you know what? I think I am going to have a good story coming out of it. Definitely not perfect, but good. And malleable enough that it can become great.

That is my conviction.

09 November 2014

Power Play by Catherine Coulter

In some ways I think I'm still digesting my latest read, Catherine Coulter's Power Play. It's the latest in her series of FBI Thrillers. I'd never actually heard of her or her series before, but it was new and looked interesting, so I thought: why not? Before NaNoWriMo began I was working on a thriller (at least, it might be a thriller - still not sure), and once I finish WITH RANDOM PRECISION, I am going to return to it. I've been exploring the genre as able.

Power Play has quite a cast of characters, and a very deep sense of history between them, none of which I had been exposed to. I felt very lost, jumping in so late, but at least the hook was intriguing: an assassination attempt on a US Ambassador.

What intrigued me was the element of the paranormal in the book: one of the FBI agents apparently has The Shining, while the madman he was pursuing was able to hypnotize people at a glance. I imagine there was all sorts of backstory to both of these things, but without having read it, I actually found it ever so slightly preposterous.

The answer to the book's mystery was so obvious that I actually completely discounted it, and was therefore surprised when the big reveal occurred - actually kind of a brilliant technique. I learned so much reading Power Play, even if I didn't really love it. It took me ten days to finish - an eternity, when I usually finish things in a day or two.

A lot of the things I've learned I haven't really quantified yet, but here are a few of my takeaways:

The importance of deeply-held secrets: most of the big reveals came out of some secret that one character or another had hidden from everyone: their family, their friends, everyone. And they always seemed to come out of left field. Sometimes they had even been playing the opposite the whole time.

Throwaway comments become important: This was another thing that was intriguing to me. In mysteries, every comment can have import, but the craft of mystery seems to rely on either emphasis (when the protagonist finds a clue) or misdirection (when he/she finds a red herring). Instead, in the thriller, pertinent information is overshadowed by the life-or-death stakes. Characters (and readers) don't realize a clue has been given because they're too busy running for their lives.

Deep betrayals from supposed friends: This one was perhaps most interesting to me, but also one I had been planning anyway. In the case of Power Play, it was a life-long friend who betrayed one of the other characters, and I definitely didn't see it coming, because it was so left-field.

All in all, Power Play was useful, and I'll have to check some of the earlier books in the series. By all accounts, The Maze and The Cove seem to be highly regarded, and as I understand it they introduced the characters.

07 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Day 6

Yesterday was day six of NaNoWriMo and I'm still on-target. My hope is to get ahead of the curve a little bit in the coming days, so as to make up for the days next week when I might be working 16-18 hours a day and unable to write. Or for Saturday the 15th when I have all-day game day (and night!) with friends.

My sleep has definitely taken a hit, though thankfully not a big one, since starting NaNoWriMo. I normally aim to be in-bed and ready to sleep between 8:00 and 9:00 PM, but since NaNo began it's been more like 10:00 most nights. Since I get up at 4:30 (or, more realistically, 4:45) that's not nearly as much sleep as I like. By nature I'm kind of an 8-9 hours a night person.

Anyway, some lost sleep is worth it for a new novel. For the most part I'm still very excited about where my novel is heading and the opportunities I am having to push my characters in new directions. The characters themselves are borrowed from earlier work and it's great to put them in a new context and see how they grow.

Also, I have a lot less brainpower for this blog. But I did (finally) finish the giant thriller I was reading, which took ten days. That's kind of a long time for me. But I'm starting Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere and that should go a lot quicker, if my experience with I'll Give You The Sun is anything to go by.

06 November 2014

Move Over, Bacon

Okay, I have a confession to make.

I have discovered a pork product I like even more than bacon.

GASP! Scandalous, I know. But hear me out. Two words.

Spanish. Chorizo.

This delicious substance is my new favorite thing to cook with. I put it in stuffings, I put it in frittatas, I put it in soups, I put it in just about anything I think it will go in. It's at its best when you render it in some olive oil or other fat for a while before adding other ingredients.

When I use chorizo I don't bother with other seasonings besides salt and pepper (and bay leaf, in the case of soups). The flavor of chorizo is so rich and complex that it infuses the whole meal and I don't need to add anything.

Today for lunch I had a chorizo-and-broccoli frittata. It was amazing and made everyone around me jealous. I plan to have more chorizo in the future.

My next goal is to make some Chorizo Cardiac Care Mac & Cheese.

05 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Day 4

Yesterday was Day 4 of NaNoWriMo and I have so far kept to my goal of 2000 words a day (with an exception for the day before Thanksgiving and the day of Thanksgiving since I will probably be working crazy-long hours those days).

It can be hard to keep moving forward. Sometimes I have to go back to remember what I've done (for example, what I named a place), and it's hard to resist the temptation to start changing things. But I must resist!

Another difficulty: getting stuck. I have a very loose outline of what I want to do, but by nature I tend to write by the seat of my pants. That's fine when I can sit around and play with things endlessly, but when I'm in a time crunch I've learned the best way to get unstuck is just to change the scene.

Seriously. Just end the scene, however you can, and get to the next one.

Usually I can come to some sort of decent conclusion to a scene, but not always. Sometimes I can seamlessly transition to the next, sometimes I have to just put a hard chapter break.

And sometimes - only very rarely - I just leave myself a note to finish the scene later and move on.

That's allowed. The goal is 50,000 words of a novel. They don't have to be contiguous and the novel doesn't have to be coherent.

I feel fine about bailing out of scenes when I have to. I'm on track to finish and I'm going to keep at it.

04 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Day 3

Well, yesterday was Day 3 of NaNoWriMo and so far I am meeting my goal of 2000 words each day. It's early still but I'm feeling good. Hopefully this feeling will last.

I wrote previously about how tea is a great aid to my writing. Another is music.

In my experience there are two types of music listening habits: listening to songs piecemeal or listening to entire albums. I fall firmly into the latter category. Over 95% of my iTunes library is full albums.

When some authors talk about their playlists for their novels, I'm always stunned to see music from all sorts of artists. My playlists aren't really playlists at all. They're albums.

For my NaNoWriMo novel, WITH RANDOM PRECISION, it's Pink Floyd. Most of their studio albums. And three of their live albums. And David Gilmour's solo stuff too, especially On An Island and Live in Gdańsk. In fact, the latter probably gets the most play.

So, in chronological order of release, my "playlist" for WITH RANDOM PRECISION.

Atom Heart Mother
Dark Side of the Moon (Immersion Edition)
Obscured by Clouds
Wish You Were Here (Immersion Edition)
The Wall
Is There Anybody Out There: The Wall Live 1980-1981
A Momentary Lapse of Reason
A Delicate Sound of Thunder
The Division Bell
On An Island
Live in Gdańsk

My playlist for STAND AND DELIVER is a matter for another post...

Happy writing and happy listening!

03 November 2014

Koyle Gran Reserva 2011

This month, the wine club offerings were both Cabernets from 2011. The first came from the Colchagua Valley in Chile: Koyle's 2011 Gran Reserva.

I haven't had very much Chilean Cabernet. In fact, this might have been my first. Usually I have Carménère if I'm drinking Chilean wine. But this was quite drinkable.

It was a deep plum color, and the body seemed much lighter than Napa Cabs. Granted, usually when I drink Napa Cabernet it's of the big, bold variety. But even so, this seemed nearly as airy as Pinot Noir.

It had a herbal nose that put me in the mind of lemony thyme. The nose didn't have a lot of fruit in it, but the taste revealed plenty of inky black fruits, positioned against a ton (really, it was a lot!) of oak. The tannins were a bit too harsh, and the wine came off overly dry to me. But I bet a few years in the bottle would mellow it just fine.

02 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Day 1

So technically it's Day 2, but I'm recounting my Day 1 of yesterday because I would rather work on NaNoWriMo than agonize over a blog post.

I got off to a good start yesterday, shutting myself in the Sensory Deprivation Closet and cranking out my first day's words.

I thought it would be interesting to consider my writing aids. Namely, tea. Well, tea and music.

Tea helps me write. I used to drink it while writing but now, since I write in a darkened closet, I have my tea before I write. Since I usually write in the evenings, that means green or white tea usually.

Certain teas put me in certain moods. Or, perhaps, I associate certain teas with certain stories.

For Stand and Deliver, the work-in-progress I have on hold while I do NaNoWriMo, I tended toward Harney & Sons' Love Life tea, a blend of Japanese sencha, dried strawberries, coconut, and popped rice.

For With Random Precision, my NaNo novel, Steven Smith's Jasmine Silver Tip is the thing. The aromas just transport me straight into the story. Probably because the main character has jasmine shrubs outside his house.

Well, that's it for now. I will talk about music some other time.

31 October 2014

In Preparation for NaNoWriMo

Well, it's been a few years, but I've decided to take another stab at NaNoWriMo. I think I'm in a better place to achieve success this time: I've got better discipline, more stability work-wise, and, perhaps best of all, the Sensory Deprivation Closet. I've been able to pretty consistently churn out work when I can isolate myself from distraction in the SDC, and I think I'll be able to hit, or even exceed, my quota most days.

I say most days, because with the Plaza Lighting Ceremony this month there are probably going to be two or three days when I work 16+ hours at a stretch and have no time to write. I have to make up for the shortfalls while I can.

I am, by nature, a pantser - that is, I fly by the seat of my pants when writing. I'll start with characters, and relationships, and go from there. This time, however, I have a lot more fleshed out plot. There's still some fuzzy areas but, all things considered, they are considerably fewer than anything else I've started.

Go figure.

Either way, I expect it to be a wild ride, and hopefully a good one.

30 October 2014

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Where to begin? I just read Una LaMarche’s Like No Other, and I still can’t quite wrap my brain around it. It was touching and warm, exploring cultures (Hasidic Judaism in particular) that were completely foreign to me. It was intense and passionate, seeing the first flowering of teenage love.

Like No Other may have had one of best meet-cutes I've seen in a long, long while: trapped on an elevator during a hurricane, Devorah does her best to avoid Jaxon, the boy she's trapped with, but the attraction between them is instant.

Like No Other is seeing a lot of praise for the diversity of its characters, and it's well-deserved: both Devorah's Hasidic faith and Jaxon's race (he's of West Indian extraction) inform their characters without defining them. Both come from an area of Brooklyn which has historically had racial tensions (I had to look up the Crown Heights Riot - I'm not from New York), but both are so drawn to each other that they're willing to do whatever they have to if it means they can be together.

And they have to do a lot. Lie. Skip school and work. Avoid the overly-pious brother-in-law.

As was inevitable, shit hits the fan. People find out. And what happens from there was absolutely harrowing - but, ultimately, redeeming.

I had a total brain fart when I sat down to write this - I couldn't remember Devorah's name for the life of me! Embarrassing, right? But as I googled to remind myself, I came across the Goodreads reviews page.

A lot of people talked about Devorah's struggle: to find the balance between her faith, her upbringing, and her heart. The reviews I skimmed were all over the place on their feelings on the matter, but all seemed to think that Devorah went through a lot more than Jaxon.

I disagree. Maybe it's because I'm male, but I thought Jaxon had just as much to struggle against. You can see it every time he sees people looking at him. Every time he casually mentions the stereotypes he comes up against. The fact that, when he first meets Devorah, he's convinced she's terrified of him - not because he's a boy, but because of the color of his skin.

Jaxon's struggle is quieter than Devorah's, but it's no less important. Devorah has to learn if she can follow her heart, even when her family, her religion, her upbringing are all telling her not to. Jaxon has to learn if he can follow his, when society has painted a very unfavorable picture of him for being who he is.

Like No Other was a beautiful book. We Need Diverse Books and this one was excellent.

29 October 2014

2011 Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee

Oh, man. I'd been saving this bottle for when I wanted something truly delicious, and that day came a few nights ago.

I had a small taste of this wine some weeks ago at a tasting of wines from Gundlach Bundschu; it was my favorite that night.

It was the same beautiful ruby color I remembered, with a round, perfectly proportioned body. It had heft to it, but it was still light enough not to be overbearing.

It had cherry and raspberry notes again, but this time I also picked up some herbal notes in the nose, too. It definitely didn't have as long to breathe this time. I was probably a little impatient with it.

The taste had more of a black cherry flavor than I remembered. My initial tasting revealed hints of candied fruit peel, but this time it had deeper, drier fruit, and the tannins were more robust, especially on my first glass. It did mellow as I hit my second glass, and that lovely balance returned.

There was a bit of slate on the finish, something I didn't remember at all, but it cleaned the palate nicely and left me wanting more.

28 October 2014

YA is Here to Save Us

There have been quite a few articles lately about the relative merits of reading young adult (and other children's) literature, not only for their intended audience but also as adults. One recent article, which examined the phenomenon of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, even had the temerity to refer to Harry Potter "notoriously" being embraced by adult readers, a reference to an earlier article on Slate which basically had the same thesis.

I'm not here to argue about literary merit...though I am unable to resist the temptation to point out that it seems YA is totally fine as long as it's several decades old. When was the last time someone complained about people reading Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird?

I'd rather talk about what YA literature can do for us. And, more particularly, what it did - and continues to do - for me.

I suspect everyone looks back on their teenage years and imagines themselves to be atypical. I certainly feel that way. I was nerdy, overweight, suffering from a pretty righteous bout of major depressive disorder, and so heavily medicated there were times when I was practically a zombie. In all my teenage years I can only remember one instance where I had a hormone-fueled teenage freak-out. One. For the most part my emotions were pretty muted. It meant that I sailed through high school more or less aloof from teenage drama.

I was so spaced I didn't even realize I'd had my first crush until a few years after the fact.

Why does this matter? Because one of the beautiful things about reading is that it can take us not only to places and times we've never been, but also to places and times we've been before - under different circumstances.

Reading YA has let me remember what it was like to be a teenager, but more than that, it's let me vicariously experience so many things that I missed out on myself. Underage drinking. Partying. High school sweethearts.

Not always the healthiest of pursuits, but ones I nonetheless regret never experiencing. Sometimes I feel like I didn't grow up, I just grew old. But YA allows me to engage that part of myself which is still a teenager at heart.

This is about more than just me, though. Studies have shown that reading Harry Potter teaches kids empathy. What could be more important than that?

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this whole argument is the assumption people make that their own aesthetics are more important than others. Not just that adult aesthetics are better than kids', but that adults reading "important" literature have better taste than those reading YA.

What complete and utter bullshit.

Reading is a personal activity and no one, NO ONE, has the right to tell me or anyone else what to read.

They can suggest, they can recommend. I'm glad to hear recommendations. But I will read what I want to read, what I need to read, and no one is going to stop me.

27 October 2014

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I don’t recall where I heard about Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, but somehow or another I did, and I read it.

It was a much longer book than I was expecting. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. After all, it was billed as two books in one. I didn’t realize that was meant literally.

Afterworlds tells the story of Darcy Patel, a debut YA author about to move to New York to write. She sold her NaNoWriMo novel for a six-figure advance and wants to make a go of writing as a career.

Alternating chapters with Darcy’s story is her...well, story. AFTERWORLDS is the name of Darcy’s novel, a paranormal romance about girl named Lizzie who gains the ability to shift herself into the afterlife, where she becomes a psychopomp, a living guide for the souls of the dead. And encounters Yamaraj, the Hindu death god, here reimagined as a hot 17-year-old fellow psychopomp, "for purposes of YA hotness," which is perhaps the best phrase ever.

At times, I had difficulty getting into Afterworlds. The alternating chapters were frustrating when I was heavily invested in one story or the other - I wanted to keep going and kept getting pulled in the other direction - and yet, that same frustration somehow perfectly captured both characters’ longings. Darcy was desperate to get her edits done, to get her ending perfect, to be successful. Lizzie was equally desperate in AFTERWORLDS: to be with Yamaraj, to figure out just what she was supposed to be, to learn how to control her new powers.

At first, I had a hard time connecting with Lizzie. There was something very uncanny about knowing that Lizzie was a creation of Darcy. I had no problem connecting with Darcy. But that added layer of remove made it a lot harder with Lizzie. As time went by I did get invested. But it took more time. It’s interesting to me that it should be that way. I wonder if others had similar experiences.

Afterworlds did an amazing job showcasing Darcy’s heritage without being in-your-face or over the top. It informed her but didn’t define her. She was aware of being part of it, and yet aware that she was also removed from it, and she wanted to do it justice. Being half-Persian myself, I understand what it is to be drawn to a culture that you're immersed in and yet not really a part of. And the need to honor that culture, especially to others.

I was surprised just how much I liked Afterworlds, when all was said and done. It really hit me in places I wasn’t expecting. And despite my usual avoidance of Paranormal Romance as a genre, I really wanted to know what was going to happen in the sequel to AFTERWORLDS. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Lizzie and Yama. Then I remembered that Darcy was just a character, her novel was a meta-novel, and realized just how thoroughly down the rabbit hole Scott Westerfeld had sucked me.

I didn't think he could pull it off, but he totally did.

26 October 2014

Palazzo Della Torre 2008

This bottle was a gift. It was the giver’s go-to wine for any night of the week. After tasting it, I can see why.

The wine was a beautiful blood-red color. It had a nose full of herbal, minty notes, but there was something else there, too. Almost chocolatey.

It had a clean, light mouthfeel, with a bit of crispness to it. All of which belied its robust taste.

It was utterly dark and smoky on my palate. It reminded me of applewood-smoked meats. There was spice to it, too. My mind went to paprika.

At first I couldn’t detect any fruit at all. But then hints of raisin began to shine through.

The tannins were in perfect harmony with the acidity, the lightness of the body in stark contrast to the dark flavors. This was an intense, complex wine. I was truly surprised. And I want more!

25 October 2014

Update: Sensory Deprivation Closet

Those of you who follow the blog may recall I converted a corner of my walk-in closet into a small Sensory Deprivation Chamber like Jandy Nelson used to write I'll Give You The Sun. (Original post here)

I've been using it for nearly a week now. WOW! What a difference it has made in my writing.

Now, I can't speak to quality yet, as it's all work in progress and I don't go back and look at things (unless I absolutely have to, like to remind myself what I've done). But it's been so easy to write - the words have flowed so freely - that I feel certain it's going to be good. I've written more (and in less time) than ever before. And that's just in the first week!

I feel certain this is going to help me with NaNoWriMo. The only thing is: now I have a hard time writing anywhere else.

The Sensory Deprivation Closet is free of distractions and interruptions (especially if I turn off my WiFi). Nowhere else is quite like it.

I hope good things are going to come of it. I feel sure they will.

24 October 2014

Orin Swift Mercury Head 2012

I’d been aware of this Cabernet for some time, but this was my first time tasting it. I shared it with two of my friends who enjoy wine as much as I do.

It was a stunningly rich garnet color in the glass (we enjoyed it out of Riedel Sommelier’s Collection Bordeaux glasses).

The nose was a surprise to me. Very spicy and very vegetal. I got a huge hit of cauliflower, something I can’t remember ever smelling (or at least, identifying) in a wine before. But it wasn’t off-putting, even though I don’t like cauliflower. It was enticing.

The taste was full of herbal, vegetal notes. It was green but good. The tannins were quite structured, giving the wine more heft than I think it would have otherwise had, and the acidity didn’t seem so high until the back of the sip (but before the finish), when I puckered up quite a bit.

Delicious and well-made like everything else I’ve had from Orin Swift, it was still less exciting to me than Papillon, Orin Swift’s Bordeaux blend. Mercury Head had some extremes that, while invigorating to experience in this pure-varietal wine, would have been smoothed out a bit in a blend.