30 January 2015

Gaja Sito Moresco 2010


There are certain producers that are known for having the highest quality wines across the board, names that are practically synonymous with their regions of origin. In Bordeaux, there are the five first growths; in Burgundy, the Premiers Cru, with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti perhaps held above all others.

In Piedmont, the name that I hear spoken (or written) of most reverently is Gaja. Their bottlings run a wide gamut of price, many of which are more than I can stomach at my current tax bracket, but some, like the Sito Moresco, are reasonably priced, and as soon as I saw this bottle on the wine list at Elemtn 47, I knew I had to have it.

The sommelier decanted it in a RIEDEL Swirl decanter before serving it.

It was bursting with oaky, leathery scents, the type of earth-heavy nose I've come to expect from Italian wines.

It had dark flavors - loam, slate, and a hint of black currant hiding in the background. It was robust and powerful in tannins, subdued in fruit, balanced in acidity.

I enjoyed it with my meal of venison saddle served with polenta balls and sautéed kale, and it was magnificent.

I look forward to trying more of Gaja's repertoire.

28 January 2015

Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001


Oh my.

I got this bottle for half price at Element 47 in Aspen, CO. It was part of their "Masters Markdown" program, where the sommelier selects six wines each day to offer for half-off.

This one was totally amazing.

The nose was intense, full of smoked honey scents, followed by the distinct smell of Red Cherry Twizzlers. While that might sound strange, it was very enticing.

The taste matched the smell. The wine was super complex, bursting with red cherry flavors, buttered toast notes, beautiful acidity, and smooth, crisp tannins. It was a wine of poise and balance.

It was excellent.

26 January 2015

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

RED RISING has been compared to a lot of things: THE HUNGER GAMES and ENDER'S GAME most frequently, it seems to me.

GOLDEN SON, on the other hand, reminded me of A GAME OF THRONES.

Seriously. As violent as RED RISING was, GOLDEN SON was even more so. Characters died left and right. There were betrayals on top of betrayals. Politics is the most dangerous arena of all.

When we left Darrow at the end of RED RISING, he had joined Nero au Augustus - the man who condemned his wife, Eo, to death - as a lancer. GOLDEN SON picks up two years later, as Darrow is finishing his military training, aided by his friends and opposed by House Bellona.

Things quickly go downhill, inevitably. Darrow, who altered the paradigm in winning the Institute, is unprepared for others to do the same.

GOLDEN SON seemed immensely more violent than RED RISING. It was also more pulse-poundingly intense. There was no breathing room - I had to know what happened next - so it was a lot harder to put down than RED RISING, too. Even when I was getting sick of all the death I couldn't stop reading.

And then that cliffhanger ending...holy crap.

GOLDEN SON definitely surpassed RED RISING in pretty much every way - an impressive feat. While it was more violent than I normally enjoy, it was an intense, absorbing read, and I am dying to see how it all ends.

21 January 2015

Passenger by Andrew Smith

This is it.

I am the worm. I am the hole.

DUDE. Where does Andrew Smith come up with this?

PASSENGER picks up a few weeks after THE MARBURY LENS left off. Jack and Conner are preparing to leave for London, and since they can't leave Ben and Griffin without a way into Marbury, Jack decides to break the lens in half so they can each get there.

This does not go well.

Jack fucked up.

What follows is a psychotic trip even deeper down the quantum rabbit hole that began with THE MARBURY LENS. The worlds Jack visits are darker(er) than ever. Each time he thinks he's home, he finds he's not really. There is something a little off, something slightly wrong. Andrew Smith made even the most innocuous things absolutely chilling in THE MARBURY LENS, and he's stepped up his A-game here. (More about that after the spoiler alert.)

It's impossible to talk about PASSENGER without revisiting Jack and Conner's relationship. It's gotten even closer than ever, but with Jack and Conner stuck in different worlds, their friendship is truly tested as they try to find their way back to each other.

Then there's Quinn Cahill. We briefly met him in KING OF MARBURY, the short story that took place between THE MARBURY LENS and PASSENGER, and was told from Conner's point of view.

Quinn takes center stage in PASSENGER, befriending Jack in the hellish version of Marbury he finds himself in. He's intriguing, simultaneously pathetic for his loneliness and admirable for his determination to survive. He rubs Jack all the wrong ways, and Andrew Smith manages to create a character that you truly love to loathe.

Like an intricate puzzle, PASSENGER fits in to all the gaps in THE MARBURY LENS, inverting the story and completing the loop. There are still mysteries remaining, sure - plenty is left open to interpretation. Jack's story ends up as a Möbius strip, an astonishing feat. I can't wait to read it all again and see what I missed.

Now that I've finished PASSENGER, I am officially out of unread Andrew Smith books, until THE ALEX CROW comes out in March. My kingdom for an ARC!

I absolutely loved PASSENGER. I suppose that must be a bit tiresome to hear, but there's something in Andrew Smith's work I can't quite define. He's written how deeply personal all his books are, and that's probably why they read so personally to me and his other fans. They come from a place of deep, deep truth.

I want to talk about the ending. Stop reading if you don't want it spoiled.





Okay.

First off, there was one line that absolutely filled me with dread. It's the kind of thing that shows true mastery, not only of writing but of emotion.

Jack's looking in the closet at his hotel room and examines the bar and says:

I knew it would hold my weight.

Oh my god. My heart just about stopped. And the way Conner reacted after saving Jack just about broke me.

Then there was the way Jack and Conner's friendship developed into something more. It caught me by surprise, but just as Jack said, once you knew it everything that came before made sense. We knew early on that Conner was the only person Jack loved. We just never knew how deep that love went, and how openly and honestly it was reciprocated.

It was beautiful and sweet and probably the most tender ending of any of Andrew Smith's books.

19 January 2015

Exhaustion Sets In

Well, I'm going on several days in a row of five or less hours of sleep. So my brain is pretty shot and words is hard.

That said, I've nearly finished PASSENGER and I've done a little writing each night, even if it's only a hundred words or so. Got to keep pushing forward regardless.

I've had a few flashes of inspiration and I think things are nearing the end of this manuscript.

So, yea.

That is all.

15 January 2015

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Woah. I already knew I loved Andrew Smith's books, but holy crap. THE MARBURY LENS mixes Smith's keen insight into growing up with a healthy dose of quantum physics and psychological terror.

THE MARBURY LENS tells the story of Jack, a sixteen year old boy from California who was born on the floor of his grandparents' kitchen after his mother got knocked up by her high school boyfriend. He was raised by his grandparents without ever truly connecting with them. The only person he ever really connected with is his best friend, Conner Kirk.

I've written before about the brilliant Best Friends that Andrew Smith writes, but Conner Kirk might very well be my favorite. I don't recall ever reading a character who did more for their best friend than Conner did for Jack.

Things go south for Jack when he's kidnapped by Freddie Horvath on his way home from a party. The scenes in Freddie's house, when Jack is being tortured (and worse), are some of the most chilling scenes I have ever read. The banality of his evil is haunting. Even his most innocuous comments left me afraid for Jack.

I don't think I've ever read such a nightmarish character. It was absolutely brilliant.

It's not giving anything away to say that Jack get's away. His encounter with Freddie is only the beginning. He never truly gets away. Andrew Smith captures the pain of a victim - and the strength of someone who refuses to be victimized - so perfectly in Jack, even as he struggles with guilt and the terrible feeling that he deserved it.

And then he goes to London, by himself at first, though Conner joins him after a few days. He meets a cute girl, Nickie, who brings him out of his shell, just a little bit. And he meets Henry Hewitt, who gives him a pair of glasses.

And that's where things really get interesting, as Jack begins traveling back and forth between our world and Marbury, a demented version of Earth where he's on the run (with friends Ben and Griffin) from a horde of crazed psychopaths - included a cannibalistic version of Conner.

Is Marbury another world - a demented layer of our own cosmic onion? Or is it all in Jack's mind?

That's the question at the heart of THE MARBURY LENS, and like all great books, it doesn't offer any easy answers. But it offered one hell of an ending.

---

After THE MARBURY LENS I also read KING OF MARBURY, the short story Andrew Smith wrote that takes place between THE MARBURY LENS and PASSENGER. It's told from Conner's point of view, and only reinforces the true, abiding friendship that Conner has for Jack. It was short and sweet and awesome.

I'm reading PASSENGER now and it's already taken me further down the rabbit hole. I don't know where I'll end up, but I am going to enjoy the ride.

14 January 2015

Traveling

It sure is hard to update a blog when you're traveling. I am in Orlando for a week for work. Hopefully I will have time to update at semi-regular intervals.

I finished THE MARBURY LENS yesterday and it was amazing. If nothing else I should find time to write a reflection on it.

Also, having gotten quite used to my sensory deprivation closet to write in, making the transition to writing in a hotel room has been difficult at best.

Blurgh.

12 January 2015

Distraction or Inspiration?

Since the conclusion of last year's NaNoWriMo, I've been pretty dedicated to my writing. I'm not doing 2000 words per day anymore, but I am writing every single day, at least 1,000 words and sometimes more.

I have two manuscripts in progress right now. One is my NaNoWriMo, which is about 75% done, I think, but which I hit a pretty big wall with for a while. I couldn't figure out how to move forward. Sometimes, just writing will get me over those hurdles, but this time it felt like I was leading myself further and further off course.

Instead, I started a second draft on a different manuscript. That one's only about 10,000 words long right now, and it's a lot of fun, but somehow, working on it has helped loosen up my brain about the first manuscript. So now I'm back to the NaNo book.

I don't know if that's the most efficient way of doing things, but it's helped me overcome my hurdles. Sometimes stepping away can be the best way to get inspired again.

Not than inspiration is everything: discipline is important, too. But when you can't figure out how you want your story to end, that little boost of inspiration can make a world of difference.

I think I'm finally back on track with MS #1. And MS #2 is exciting me as well, pushing me to finish #1 so I can get back to it (again).

09 January 2015

Stick by Andrew Smith

Oh, wow. What a novel. What a story.

STICK tells the story of Stark McClellan, an almost-fourteen-year-old born with only one ear. Stark is tall and skinny, which earned him his nickname Stick. He has an older brother, Bosten, whom he adores, and a best friend, Emily, who he's quickly finding out he has deeper feelings for.

If GHOST MEDICINE had echoes of 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, and IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS' Jonah reminded me of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE's Austin, then Stick reminded me a lot of Ryan Dean from WINGER.

Both guys felt apart from everyone else for something they had no control over - Stick's missing ear, Ryan Dean's age. Both had an earnestness to them that made their hardships so unbearable to witness - yet so compelling that you had to read on.

Stick's hardships come from his parents. Stick and Bosten live in a house of rules, and the punishments for breaking any of them are severe: they're beaten and then banished to what Stick calls St. Fillan's Room, a spare room with only a bed and a pail for them to do their business.

Things get even worse for the boys when their parents find out that Bosten is gay. Stick never had any problem with it; he loves his brother more than anything. When Bosten runs away, Stick sets out to find him.

I don't know where Andrew Smith finds the deep well of empathy to write what he writes. He goes to some dark places and it's amazing to me how he's still able to shine a light. STICK went to some really harsh places, and there were times it was hard to keep reading. I did keep reading, though - I read the whole thing in two days flat. Would have read it in one, if I didn't have to go to work.

STICK was amazing. Each of Smith's novels has been better than the one that came before, and STICK was no exception. For the first time I started to see the humor that would be so prominent in WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES start to come to the fore. That streak of absurdity starts to creep in from the moment Stick and Bosten, along with Bosten's friend Paul, decide to go set off some firecrackers.


Don't read any further if you don't want the ending spoiled.





Because OH MY GOD. That ending. I was actually terrified for Bosten. I so didn't want things to end badly. The boys had been through so much.

I know in real life sometimes things go from bad to worse. I know sometimes there's no coming back. That sometimes, life does beat you down and keep you there until you burn yourself out and fade away.

But if that had happened, I would have thrown STICK into the nearest fireplace in rage.

Thank goodness that did not happen. The ending was beautiful and hopeful and so happy I almost cried.

Now I have to go buy my own copy.

08 January 2015

Lugana San Benedetto 2013


This was the second December wine from my wine club. It was refreshing but had a surprising heft to it, and held up well for winter drinking.

The wine was a nice amber color, with overwhelming notes of honeysuckle in the nose. Very floral and lush.

I'm pretty sure I tasted kiwifruit and lychee in it, but it's been a while since I've had a lychee and I don't really like kiwifruit so I may be a bit off on that...either way, the fruit flavors were balanced by a nice, structured acidity. It was a wine that knew what it was talking about.

Very nice.

07 January 2015

Locorosso 2012 Rosso Toscano IGP



December was a month of Italian wines in my wine club, and the first I drank was this red wine from Tuscany.

The wine had a light, airy body and a rich garnet hue. Like most Tuscans I've had, it eschewed a fruity nose for scents of tar and tobacco, leather and cedar.

The taste had some red fruit to it, but it was meaty and smoky, too.

It opened up really well over time and was quite pleasant.

06 January 2015

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith

I wrote yesterday that Andrew Smith's Ghost Medicine seemed to have some of the same DNA as 100 SIDEWAYS MILES.

Now, having finished IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS, it's hard not to draw comparisons between Jonah, the narrator of PATH, and Austin from GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE. Though all of Smith's narrators share a deep and honest introspection, Austin stood out (to me, at least) for the way he recorded everything. As I read about Jonah making his map, I was reminded so strongly of Austin's carefully detailed histories, and I was almost surprised when Jonah had to refer to sex obliquely. Jonah was embarrassed by it, a little bit, while Austin was anything but. Two different boys, but both relying on words to tell their stories to themselves.

Jonah was as reliant on others' words as he was on his own. The letters from his older brother, Matthew, who's serving in Vietnam, serve as flavor, point and counterpoint for many of the chapters. I don't have any family who's been in a war (apocryphally, my maternal grandfather was in training when World War II ended), but it was not hard at all to imagine how hard it would be to have a brother on the other side of the world, how heartbreaking it would be to read his words as he loses hope of making it home. The Vietnam conflict was long over before I was even born, but everything I've read and seen about it agrees it was hell, and Matthew's letters bring that harsh reality across in a way I'd never felt before.

IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS isn't about Matthew, though. It's about Jonah, and his younger brother Simon who he's promised to look after, and the journey they take from New Mexico to Arizona as they try to find their father, who's getting released from jail. Along the way they get a ride from Mitch and Lilly, who are driving from Texas to California with a tin statue of Don Quixote in the back of the car.

Jonah and Simon are too similar, more similar than either will admit, and both dependent on each other in ways deep and unspoken. When they're drawn into the orbits of Mitch - who is probably certifiable - and Lilly - who is the first girl either boy has ever really been around - shit hits the fan real quick.

Much like GHOST MEDICINE, IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS didn't have as much of that humor that I identify so strongly with Andrew Smith. It was sorrowful and hopeful in equal measures - and that is something I've also come to expect from Smith - but its honesty was darker and more brutal. Jonah didn't have much to laugh about. He didn't know how to laugh. He was still angry.

IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS was awesome, haunting (no surprise there) and lyrical. It showed a new side of Andrew Smith to me. In GHOST MEDICINE, WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, all the main characters were only children. Only children with awesome best friends, granted, but there is something profoundly different about brothers. IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS showed just how deep Smith's understanding of that bond runs. The acknowledgments reveal Smith has brothers himself. He certainly knows how to channel the love and rage that growing up with other boys brings out in you.

I often wonder where Andrew Smith gets his ideas, but then I think better of it. Sometimes it's better not to know how the magic works.

05 January 2015

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Andrew Smith. I read WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES last year and all three of them were absolutely amazing. As 2014 wound to an end, I got all five of his other books, and have been reading them in order of publication.

GHOST MEDICINE is Andrew Smith's debut, but in it one can read the DNA of his later stories. It was fun and heartrending in equal measures, and it shone a light on those aspects of Smith's writing I find so enchanting.

Troy Stotts just lost his mother, and as GHOST MEDICINE begins, he is taking his horse up into the mountains to be alone. Is he running away or running toward something. That question is at the heart of the novel.

Troy's closest friends, Tommy Buller and Gabriel Benavidez, and his de-facto-girlfriend, Luz Benavidez, fill most of the novel, as they grow up, argue, chase down mountain lions, and get into a fight with the town bully. And as intense and real as those relationships are, as heartwarming and heartbreaking as they can be at times, what struck me most about GHOST MEDICINE were the times when Troy was interacting with his father. It reminded me so strongly of 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, it was like the two were in the same universe. Maybe they are.

But I knew things about my father I didn't have to say; all boys know those things about their dads.

This line came early on in the book, but it stuck with me throughout, and even now that I've finished I keep thinking about it. 100 SIDEWAYS MILES was informed by Smith's feelings about his son going away to college; I wonder how much of GHOST MEDICINE was informed by his relationship with his son when he was younger. Smith is brave and generous to share that part of himself with us.

Anyone who has read books by Andrew Smith knows there's bound to be amazing supporting characters, and in particular an awesome Best Friend. Tommy Buller was all that and more.

I talked once or twice about mothers with Tom Buller, and it was probably the only the only thing we ever talked about that made him quiet or uncomfortable. I understood now what kept my friend from mouthing certain words, and I never for a moment believed I knew anyone in my life who was stronger or more admirable. 

Wow. Just wow.

And, in keeping with form, there was a gutwrenching twist at the end - not a surprise, so much as an unexpected turn of events, and even though you know it's coming, it still manages to shock you. GHOST MEDICINE might be the template for all that came after.

I'm so glad I read GHOST MEDICINE, but, strange as this sounds, I'm glad I read Smith's other books first. GHOST MEDICINE was a bit heavier than, say, WINGER, and while it was beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable, it was not nearly as breezy. The witty humor in WINGER or GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE are hinted at in GHOST MEDICINE but aren't as prominent, and it made me realize just how truly funny the later books are.

Not that everything needs to be funny, mind you. I would not change a single word of GHOST MEDICINE, but it was interesting to see how things have changed.

I suppose this is rambling, and I think, maybe, that's okay. There was a certain elliptical pattern to GHOST MEDICINE's narrative that lends itself well to the western theme and the dry imagery of California ranch country. And so, too, to this reflection.

Final verdict: Go read GHOST MEDICINE.

That is all.

02 January 2015

New Year's Ennui

Does anyone else have ennui at the beginning of a new year?

I suppose part of it is the let down of the end of the holiday season. Part of it is the realization of time passing by. Part of it is the gray of winter.

I don't know where all of it comes from. But I do not like it.

What to do about it?

Read. I've got a pile of books by Andrew Smith to keep me company.

Tea. Today, it's Smith Teamakers' Methode Noir.

And I am going to blow things up on LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7. Because, you know, sometimes senseless destruction is good for the heart.

01 January 2015

Hello, 2015

Well, here we have it. The first day of a new year.

I slept in this morning and have spent most of my waking time reading. I finished up Andrew Smith's GHOST MEDICINE, which, as I expected, was haunting and heartrending.

I don't really do "resolutions," but I do have some goals this year. I want to finish both of the novels I started last year - that's pretty doable, I think.

I want to spend more time with my guitar. That is a little trickier, since I get jittery practicing with other people around so I need the apartment to be empty. I also need to improve my tone. I think adjusting my bridge pickup will help with that.

I want to be more patient with other people. I'm still working on that one.

I want to be braver and not worry so much about what other people think. Still working on that too.

Also, I want to learn how to swim properly, because I never really progressed beyond the "not drowning" stage as a child.

Here's to a new year and new chances. Go me go!