31 March 2015

Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A McKillip

When we left off at the end of THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED, Morgon seemed to finally have come face to face with the High One, only to get an unpleasant surprise: Ghisteslwchlohm has been impersonating the High One, and Deth, Morgon's friend, has betrayed him.

So, naturally, HEIR OF SEA AND FIRE picks up in a completely different spot, following Morgon's sort-of-betrothed, Raederle, as she journeys to discover what exactly happened to Morgon.

While it was frustrating to see it start in a completely different place, the opening was so much stronger than THE RIDDLE-MASTER's. The characters were clearer, and there weren't quite so many mentioned in the first few pages. But that being said, all the lords of the lands ran together and I never got a good sense of the difference between them. Indeed, I never got a clear understanding of the relationships of the three smaller kingdoms in An. So...blurgh.

So, Raederle leaves, hooks up with some secondary characters from THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED, and takes off in search of Morgon. The plot is a bit easier to follow since all the locations are familiar now and we're being reintroduced to the characters, but here's the thing: Riddles are only satisfying if the answer is satisfying. The story was still maddeningly opaque at times, and the payoff was insufficient to make me forgive it.

There were several chapters where all people did was talk and nothing got resolved.

At least this book had a more satisfying ending. And I think, at last, we got closer to the heart of the philosophy the trilogy is trying to convey. If only it could do it a little more clearly...

30 March 2015

The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A McKillip

I've been sitting on this for a while, trying to get a handle on my feelings for THE RIDDLE-MASTER TRILOGY by Patricia A McKillip. The trilogy, composed of THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED, HEIR OF SEA AND FIRE, and HARPIST IN THE WIND, was published in the 1970s, but I only read it this March when a friend lent it to me. Actually, she had lent it several months prior but I only got around to it this March (sorry!).

THE RIDDLE-MASTER suffers from an unfortunate blurb in the front of the book, which compares it to LORD OF THE RINGS and even calls it "Tolkienesque." I think if they had left out that blurb I wouldn't have gone in with such high expectations. LORD OF THE RINGS is one of my favorite books ever - I reread it once a year and have done so for the last 12 years.

THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED follows Morgon, the Prince of Hed, a tiny island. The opening pages were some of the most confusing I have ever read, but by about the third chapter I was pretty sure who was who - mostly. The world of THE RIDDLE-MASTER is governed by "land-law," wherein the ruler of a land has a mystical connection to everything in it, and the High One has a connection to the entire realm. This set of governing laws was explained clearly in the second volume of the trilogy, leaving me wondering what the hell was going on in the first volume.

Joseph Campbell identified the parts of the hero's journey, and Morgon's stayed pretty true to that, but I felt like the Refusal of the Call took up half the book. I'm all for sticking to one's principles (Morgon is a pacifist called to take up a fight), but the thing is, you have to vary the conflict. Morgon literally just ran away several times and then decided to come back.

The world-building seemed forced at times, and the sense of the history of the realm was lacking, as compared to Tolkien - but again, if that comparison hadn't been made early on it wouldn't have bothered me so much. There was a lot of overly purple prose, which often obstructed the meaning rather than painting a pretty picture, and there were a ton of run-on sentences and weird punctuation. I don't know if that's a writing choice or an editing choice but it was troublesome.

Anyway, I stuck it out with THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED, mostly because it wasn't so terrible that I had to quit (like I did with ATLAS SHRUGGED). And I kind of liked the characters.

Then it ended on a ridiculous cliffhanger. Literally, like, curtain closed, WHAAAT?! It made me so mad. But I kept with it and read on.

27 March 2015

Chappellet Pritchard Hill 2010


Oh, man. Chappellet is one of my favorite producers from Napa, and this is the finest of their wines. The Pritchard Hill estates makes amazing, delicious, inky Cabernets.

This one was no different: a deep plum color, with scents of dark chocolate shavings on the nose, and a deep, mellow oakiness.

The wine was bursting with black fruits, licorice, and that same dark chocolate notes, with an intense, lustrous finish.

A frequent favorite and one I can't wait to sample again (and again and again).

26 March 2015

The Lynburn Legacy Short Stories

I don’t recall exactly why I had looked up THE LYNBURN LEGACY again on Goodreads after having finished the three novels, but I noticed there were three short stories that went with it, and that they were free, so I went ahead and grabbed them and read them. They were indeed short stories - ten to fifteen pages each, and they filled in some of the gaps left in the larger narrative.

THE SPRING BEFORE I MET YOU gave us a gilmpse into Jared’s life before the rest of the Lynburns found him and his mother living in San Francisco. We get glimpses of his rough edges, his anger, his yearning for his mother’s love despite the fact she seems to loathe him - but also glimpses of his softer side, the side that loves to read, that will wait for someone in the rain to make sure they’re safe. It was a quiet story, almost a psychological study, and I don’t know that it gave us anything we didn’t already know. It was enjoyable, though.

THE SUMMER BEFORE I MET YOU was the story of Kami and Angela assisting at a summer cricket camp, and showed us a Kami that we already knew: determined, spirited, witty, driven. This was before her grandmother had died, though, and so it was a Kami with less sadness. This was the summer of Claud (a hilarious romantic interlude), the summer that Rusty came back to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Again, it didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know, but it gave us some nice, tender moments with pre-Lynburn Kami, and showed her being pretty kick-ass, in surprising ways.

THE NIGHT AFTER I LOST YOU takes place immediately after the end of UNSPOKEN, and is told from Ash’s perspective, lost amongst his own guilty conscience and confused about where he belongs. He desperately wants approval - his mother’s, his father’s, Jared’s - and yet, despite his moments of weakness, there is steel inside of him, and the refusal to commit murder. He found his own strength, but much too late. He’d already betrayed everyone he knew.

Meanwhile, Jared and Lilian were lost in their own worlds of hurt inside Aurimere. We saw the aftermath of Jared’s cruelty to Kami - both on Kami, left in heartbreaking tears, and on Jared, left in a destructive rage built of his own regret. What surprised me here was seeing Angela comfort Kami more lovingly than I ever expected - and seeing how badly Kami was, indeed, hurt.

Again, though, there wasn’t much new.

It was fun to revisit the world of THE LYNBURN LEGACY but I'm glad they were short stories. I think too much would have detracted from the originals.

I'm not saying I didn't enjoy them, though.

25 March 2015

Nora Albariño 2012


I should probably have taken a picture before my friends and I drank the entire bottle, instead of after. It had a beautifully pale, nearly clear color, by far one of the most delicate looking Albariños I've had.

Its scent was anything but delicate. It had a sharp, slaty, vegetal nose - with far less citrus than I expected. It tickled my nose in all the right places.

The taste was tangy, dry and almost bitter, with tingly acidity and hints of petrol. Again, there was less citrus than I expected, until the very end, when I got pretty distinct notes of lime rind.

It was lovely to enjoy with a cheese plate and potato-crusted red snapper.

24 March 2015

Steven Smith, Teamaker

I was heartbroken to wake up this morning to the news that Steven Smith, the co-founder of Stash Tea, Tazo, and of course Smith Tea, had passed away yesterday.

There is a lovely obituary that does the man far more justice than I could ever do here, and of course the official response from Smith Tea here.

But I want to talk about the time I got to meet him. It was at the 2012 Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, Washington. At the time I'd never heard of Steven Smith; in fact, I was just at the beginning of my journey out of the Doily Ghetto and into the world of fine teas.

My friends and I had just finished a workshop that sounded amazing but ended up being a hippie steeping the same tired leaves of green tea over and over for twenty minutes. When we finally escaped the big-haired gentleman, we emerged to see Steven Smith on the main stage, giving a lecture on tea blending, tea tasting, and the pairing of tea and food.

I'd never heard anyone talk about tea the way he did - the nuances, the flavor profiles, the concept of terroir applied to the leaf instead of the vine. I filled two pages of notes, scribbling as fast as I could, and still no doubt missed several gems of knowledge.

When the talk was over, he stayed by the side of the stage, answering questions or just saying hello. I had the great pleasure of talking with him for a few minutes about tea, wine, and Kansas City barbecue, since I was curious what teas he thought would stand up to smoky sweet KC barbecue. He was gracious and friendly and patient.

Later that day, as I was sitting talking with my friends, he stopped by the chairs we were sitting at to say goodbye - and then he gave us a bottle of fruit-infused tea for us to try. It was generous and totally unexpected. It's one of my favorite memories from the Tea Festival. (And it was delicious, by the way.)

Since that day two and a half years ago I've come a long way in my tea journey, but I always have plenty of Smith Tea on hand. I'm sad I won't get the chance to meet the man again - but grateful for the time I did.

23 March 2015

The Cipher by John C Ford

I haven't had the easiest time finding YA thrillers. I suppose a large part of that is the fact that most of the typical thriller protagonists - spies, journalists, government employees, Harvard professors with weird hair - tend to be adults. So when I stumbled across a blurb for THE CIPHER, I leapt at the opportunity to read it.

Smiles (Robert Smylie, Jr.) is the only son of Robert Smylie, the founder of Alyce Systems, which revolutionized internet encryption. He's a bit of a wash-out, though: his math skills have never been sufficient to allow him to pursue his dad's line of work, and he's never had the passion for anything else, so he's drifted through life, never trying anything for more than a week or two, never truly taking risks on anything or striving for anything.

He's living in a dumpy apartment close to MIT, and his only friend is his nerdy neighbor, Ben, a math savant; he and his girlfriend, Melanie, are on the ropes; and, to top it off, his dad is dying of cancer, his stepmom (who raised him) died in a car crash months before, and his birth mother abandoned him when he was two.

All in all, despite the seven million dollars he has coming to him on his eighteenth birthday, his life sucks.

All that changes when Ben makes a discovery that could undo any internet encryption, plunging the world into chaos - and bringing Alyce Systems crumbling down.

Structurally, THE CIPHER followed in the footsteps of most other thrillers I've read, which used third person POV, fairly close. Smiles and Melanie were the POV characters for the majority of the novel, though Ben had one or two as well. Despite Smiles's affluent upbringing, he was easy enough to relate to: he wasn't spoiled, at least materially, though his laziness could be frustrating. Melanie was a delight, as she was all-around smarter and more competent than Smiles, though the inevitable youthful mistakes certainly caught up to her.

THE CIPHER did a great job keeping me guessing, ratcheting up the stakes, all the way to the end - and that is when it fell flat, at least for me. I'm usually okay with moral ambiguity, with messy endings, though they're not necessarily my favorite. This time, though, everything felt so unresolved. I wasn't sure if anyone had grown or learned a lesson, or if their natural inclinations simply won out and everything ended as it always was going to.

Hard to say. I liked THE CIPHER, but I didn't love it. But that's okay. It was still a worthwhile read.

20 March 2015

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

If THE DREAM THIEVES was Ronan's story, then it seemed like, in large part, BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE belonged to Adam. Which is strange, when you think about it, since it's Blue's name in the title, and she certainly went through a lot, too; but it's Adam's growth that stuck out to me.

Summer is over, and Blue and the Raven Boys are gearing up for a return to school. Ronan is spending a lot of time at the Barn, though no one knows why; Blue's mother, Maura, is still missing, after leaving a note at the end of THE DREAM THIEVES that said simply:

Glendower's underground. So am I.

Adam is still living on his own, and, with Persephone's aid, coming to terms with what his sacrifice to Cabeswater means. And, in an ironic turn of events that is not lost on the characters, they have Yet Another Villanous Latin Teacher, in the form of Mr. Gray's former employer, Colin Greenmantle.

Adam took some harsh turns in the first two books, and as much as I loved his character, it was easy to become angry at him, too: his stubbornness, his refusal to see his friends' love as anything other than pity or charity, his own sense of denial. In BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE he's finally growing up.

As teased at the end of THE DREAM THIEVES, Ronan has a crush on Adam, and it becomes clear quite quickly that Adam knows this. Things build slowly, and I'm still unsure how things are going to play out on that front - I fear things will only end in heartbreak, but then I always worry about that. Either way, the scenes between them were absolutely riveting, as their natural antagonism warred with their friendship and care for each other. One particularly touching scene had Adam and Ronan fight it out, only for Adam to find a small, perfect gift from Ronan left behind.

Gansey and Blue inevitably draw closer together, and these scenes, too, sizzle, though the direction they're heading is far more clear: even as they know they can't do what they're doing, they do it anyway. When you can't kiss the one you love, even the simplest of touches is pregnant with even more meaning: holding hands, touching the back of someone's neck, everything is amplified.

With all these glorious character moments, it's easy to forget there's a fast-moving adventure, too: Blue and the boys are determined to find Maura, Ronan is trying to figure out a way to destroy his Villanous Latin Teacher, Adam is still trying to find balance between himself and Cabeswater, Gansey is growing ever closer to finding Glendower. He receives a warning that there are not one, but three sleepers: One to wake, one to NOT wake, and one...well, things always come in threes.

I think this is quite possibly the most disjointed thing I've ever written. BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE is overwhelmingly awesome, but it is a little overwhelming. There's so much going on. I loved every bit of it and I can't wait for the fourth book to be released this October.

I am definitely going to preorder it.

19 March 2015

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The more I think about Maggie Stiefvater’s THE RAVEN BOYS, the more amazing it seems to me. It’s so full of mood, of setting, of voice.

THE DREAM THIEVES is no different: an immersive experience, intense and haunting.

At its heart, THE DREAM THIEVES is Ronan’s story. At the end of THE RAVEN BOYS, he revealed to his friends that he could manifest his dreams. THE DREAM THIEVES opens with an examination of secrets: the kind of secrets one person keeps from another, the kind of secrets one person keeps from him- or herself, and the kind of secrets that no one knows about because they’ve been long buried.

Ronan lives with each type of secret, and sharp readers will quickly figure out what secret he’s hiding from himself (more about that at the end, after the spoiler warning).

Meanwhile, Gansey’s quest for Glendower continues. Adam, having given himself to Cabeswater, as its eyes and ears, has to learn what that truly means, and the growing pains are not easy. He’s still hurting from his abusive parents and loveless home life, and with the stress of Cabeswater pressing at his mind added to it, he’s a bomb ready to go off. And he does, more than once, lashing out much like Ronan.

Ronan, for his part, struggles to understand his gift, and the mystery left behind by his father - who shared the same gift - of being banished from his home. He finds aid from the unlikeliest - and most unsavory - of places.

Blue is still determined not to kiss anyone or fall in love. It makes her relationship with Adam, and with Gansey, complicated. Once more, sharp readers will have already seen the writing on the wall on this front. It’s basically set up in the first chapters of the first book, but the fun is in the journey, after all. Well, I say fun. Heartbreak, more like.

Then there’s Mr. Gray, the hitman, who makes his entrance beating the crap out of Ronan’s brother, looking for the Greywaren - a device his employer believes will allow its user to manifest dreams. Clearly, this employer is misinformed. Mr. Gray is complicated, morally ambiguous, but has enough of a heart to feel drawn to Blue’s mother, Maura.

So many threads. So many plots, I can’t do it all justice. What can I say? The book totally absorbed me. The voice only grew in potency. I was exhilarated and terrified for Blue and her Raven Boys, for Maura and Mr. Gray, for the secrets that Ronan was keeping to come to the fore.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, SO STOP READING HERE IF YOU WISH TO AVOID THEM.




It was obvious to me, very quickly, that Ronan was gay. I didn’t really get any of that from the first book, but it didn’t focus on Ronan that much, and all we saw was the anger. But from the outset I got this inkling, and though the text never slapped me in the face with it, it was quite obvious where things were headed.

What was harder to pin down was where Ronan’s attractions lie, and we didn’t get it until the final chapter, where Stiefvater tells us: Adam Parrish was Ronan’s second secret.

Which explains so much, most especially why Ronan went so ballistic on Adam’s father.

Writing this after having read BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE as well, it’s clear that I understood the subtle hints correctly. A bit of research, though - I was looking up some of the untranslated Latin phrases - revealed some people were, at least before the release of BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE, in denial about the whole thing.

Some of what I read reminded me of the “delusional” HARRY POTTER fans who were convinced Harry and Hermione were going to end up together. Or the blatantly offensive fans who didn’t get that Rue in THE HUNGER GAMES was black, and decided it was “less sad” when she died in the movie because she was a black girl.

(Don’t get me started on that.)

Clearly, after the fact, it’s clear what Stiefvater intended. Her nuanced, careful layering of thought and action, text and subtext, was one of the greatest reveals I’ve ever read, and one of the most delightful knots to untangle in any book ever.

I’m a sap for happy endings, so of course I’m hoping for some happiness for Ronan, wherever his heart takes him, but I have a feeling he’s going to have to go through a lot more heartbreak before he gets there.

I was happy to go along for the ride in BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE (but I will avoid saying anything else about it here), and I can’t wait for the fourth, supposedly final book, to be released this October. Thankfully I came to this series late enough to not have a long wait!

18 March 2015

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

It's no secret that I love Andrew Smith's books. So of course I got his newest, THE ALEX CROW, as soon as it came out. I waited 24 hours before reading it, though, because I was three-quarters of the way through THE RAVEN BOYS when I picked it up, plus I wanted to save it for the plane (I was flying to Orlando the next day).

Though GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE was my first Andrew Smith book, it actually wasn't my favorite - that prize goes to either PASSENGER or 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, depending on my mood on any given day. I loved GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE but it didn't grab me in the way some of the others did. So much advanced publicity for THE ALEX CROW was comparing it to GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, but to me, it was a superficial comparison at best. THE ALEX CROW borrows the interwoven narratives of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE but uses them in a different way: while GJ started narrow and widened its perspective, THE ALEX CROW did the opposite, casting a wide net and then showing how all the pieces were intertwined.

In the present, Arial, a refugee from a war-torn country (one assumes in the Middle East), is attending a summer camp with his new American brother, Max; in the past, Ariel tells the story of how he came to leave his home country, and we quickly realize he is narrating the story to Max; somewhere far away, The Melting Man, a schizophrenic nutjob who is literally melting from exposure to radiation from the dirty bomb he's hauling in the back of a U-Haul; and in the distant past, told in journal form, is the tale of the steamship Alex Crow, trapped in the Arctic ice.

In GJ, Austin says that all good stories are about everything, and yet I felt that was even truer of THE ALEX CROW: there was so much packed in so effortlessly, and much less self-consciously, too. Ariel was a compelling, heartbreaking narrator, lacking some of the cynicism that Austin possessed but making up for it with honest confusion and befuddlement at the strangeness of his new American life. He's thoughtful and generous to others.

As Ariel's summer progresses and he slowly opens up to Max (plus another friend, Cobie Peterson), he also learns that Camp Merrie-Seymour is more connected to his adopted father's work than he realized (Ariel and Max's father works for Alex Division, which is essentially an morally questionable Mad Science lab). In Ariel's past, we see the cruelty and kindness that got him to the refugee camp where he was eventually adopted. This portion contains some of the most chilling writing Smith has ever given us, and it broke my heart ten times worse than THE KITE RUNNER.

As The Melting Man drives across the country, we see his spiral into madness take him deeper and deeper. And in the voyage of the Alex Crow we see how easily we can set ourselves on the course to self-destruction.

Andrew Smith has never shied away from showing the harsher parts of life, and that's taken to new, bizarre heights with THE ALEX CROW. This books lives precariously balanced between horrific and tender, sometimes at the same time. People do horrible things to the ones they care about. Or do kind things for a total stranger. Sometimes all at once.

America is never presented as magical, which is wise and true: as awful as Ariel's encounters in his home country are, the things he encounters in America turn out to be equally horrific.

And yet.

Life goes on. Andrew Smith has said that he doesn't believe things always do get better - sometimes they get worse. But that doesn't mean life isn't worth living. Ariel is resilient and somehow, amazingly, still hopeful.

I've written before about the best friends Andrew Smith writes for his books - Robby Brees in GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, Conner Kirk in THE MARBURY LENS and PASSENGER, Cade Hernandez in 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, and more. Those books all showed friendships fully formed, the kind of loyalty and fidelity that come with years of friendship.

Ariel starts out alone, friendless, and essentially brotherless, since Max naturally is opposed to getting a new brother at the age of sixteen.

Seeing him and Max grow closer was the best part of the entire book. The first time Max realizes how awful he's been, and is forced into giving Ariel a hug, made me smile. And the moment when Max asks Ariel to tell him his story - all the horrible things that happened - and stays up half the night, unflinchingly listening, made me cry.

Man has the power to destroy himself and the world around him. But we also have the potential to make ourselves better. Sometimes all it takes is a little compassion.

I loved THE ALEX CROW, even more than I expected to. And I can't wait for Andrew Smith's next book (STAND OFF, the sequel to WINGER, releases this September!).

17 March 2015

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I was introduced to Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS in a workshop on voice taught by Heather Alexander, literary agent at Pippin Properties. It was presented as an exemplar of handling multiple characters in third person close.

Some months later my esteemed Critique Partner mentioned THE RAVEN BOYS as a possible comp title for her book, and so it moved higher up on my To Be Read list. And now, like Yeats's rough beast, its hour has come round at last.

I read THE LYNBURN LEGACY some time ago, and it was billed as Gothic Mystery, or occasionally Gothic Horror or even Gothic Romance. That was my first Gothic anything in a long while. Yet now, having read THE RAVEN BOYS, it seems more Gothic than anything since Edgar Allen Poe. Maybe it's all the ravens. Who can say?

What overwhelmed me, first and foremost, was the intense sense of place in THE RAVEN BOYS. The town of Henriette, Virginia is as much a character as any of the humans, and is woven as tightly into the narrative as Middle-Earth was woven into THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Each page that went by I could almost smell the dust in the air or feel the muggy heat of Virginia.

THE RAVEN BOYS starts off with Blue Sargent, psychic amplifier (though not a psychic herself), staking out a churchyard on St. Mark's Eve, to assist her aunt in cataloguing the spirits of those who will die in the coming year. Blue has never seen a spirit before, but this time she does - a boy named Gansey, who goes to the prestigious, expensive Aglionby Academy, known for their Raven mascot.

All her life Blue has been warned that if she kisses her true love, he will die - and when she sees Gansey, she's told there's only two reasons she could see him: either he's her true love, or she kills him. Of course, in Blue's case, it could easily be both.

Naturally, Blue is bound to meet Gansey and his friends and fellow Aglionby Students - Raven Boys - and join in Gansey's possibly-insane quest to find the ancient Welsh king Glendower, supposedly lying in eternal sleep along the leyline passing through Henrietta.

Complicated? Yes, and yet, no. The novel races along, and yet it never feels rushed. Each of the Raven Boys - Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah - get their moments to shine, to be wonderful, to be awful. Gansey's lived a life so privileged he doesn't even realize when he's being a condescending asshole. Ronan's so angry inside, he knows he's being a condescending asshole. Adam's a scholarship student, living with his abusive father in a double-wide outside of town and wearing hand-me-down Aglionby sweaters. And Noah...well, Noah is quiet and different. Each boy's internal life is vividly portrayed, a few well-chosen words bringing them into sharp focus.

It's overwhelming, how artfully all the characters are woven together. There are no saints, and yet each character invites so much empathy. Adam, in particular - the poor kid who stubbornly refuses the help of his friends, believing if he doesn't accomplish something himself, it doesn't mean anything - intrigued me. And indeed, his journey comes into sharp focus as the novel nears its end.

I absolutely loved THE RAVEN BOYS, which you can probably tell from how much I just wrote about it. I'm so glad I was introduced (and then re-introduced) to it.

I'm already halfway through its sequel, THE DREAM THIEVES.

16 March 2015

Crognolo Toscana Tenuta Sette Point 2012


I ate a late meal at La Luce in the Orlando Hilton Bonnet Creek, and since it had an extensive Italian wine list, and I've not had a lot of Italian wine adventures, I decided to be bold and requested our waiter choose something for me. She chose this.

The wine was blood red, with metallic and tobacco notes in the nose, and subtle hints of red fruit. It was forward and robust, in-your-face like I have come to expect from Tuscan wines.

The taste revealed surprising amounts of fruit, even though the wine was super-dry. It had oaky, tannic notes and hints of walnut, and a velvety mouthfeel. The finish lasted for days.

It was expectedly good with the cheese plate I shared, but unexpectedly good with the flourless chocolate cake one of my dining companions ordered. It was, in fact, superb.

I still haven't gotten my brain wrapped around Italian wines, but I plan to keep on exploring.

13 March 2015

Cune Rosado Rioja Alta

I'm in Orlando, Florida this week for work. Which means sun and warm weather.

Which means ROSÉ!

I enjoyed a glass of Cune Rosado Rioja Alta at the Columbia Restaurant (one of the best Spanish restaurants I have ever been to). It was my first Spanish rosé, and I was not too surprised to find it similar in style to French rosés, yet different enough to stand on its own.

The wine was a deep salmon color, darker than most rosés I've had before, with a darker nose to match: red roses, grapefruit peel, and a hint of loamy minerality.

It had a full, round mouthfeel, a little tart but mostly smooth, with hints of strawberry candy (it made me think of Red Vines) and, once more, a bit of candied grapefruit peel.

It was a wonderful glass, and a beautiful accompaniment to my Columbia 1905 Salad.

11 March 2015

Nine Days to Nawruz

It's nine days to Nawruz (or Nowruz, or however you choose to spell it - my family has written it Nawruz since I was a child), and this year, for the first time in several years, I will get to celebrate it in Persian style with my family in Vancouver: the haftsin, sabzi polo mahi, my uncles playing Rook, lots and lots of tea and saffron and dancing.

This morning, I had a discussion with my (boxing) trainer about being Persian versus, say, Arabic. I'll be honest: I was born and raised in America, and my gleanings of Persian culture come from visiting my Dad's family in Vancouver, where they have lived since the 1980s. Indeed, growing up I had very little sense of my own culture, and, being half-and-half anyway, I suppose I didn't want to emphasize my own differences with my peers. Having a name like Adib did that plenty on its own.

These days, more than anything, being Persians means family to me. It's my connection to my past and my blood. And, strangely enough, I find myself wanting to tell stories about it. In fact I already have the beginnings of an idea for a novel. I have two works-in-progress right now, so that'll have to be on the back burner. But I can't wait to dive in.

10 March 2015

Approaching Vacation

Tomorrow I leave for Orlando, Florida for work, and after that it's straight to Vancouver, BC for vacation. I expect blog posts to be fairly intermittent during that time, though I expect I will write posts about THE ALEX CROW, which I picked up in the store today, as well as THE RAVEN BOYS trilogy as I make it through them.

I am pondering re-reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS while I'm on vacation; I haven't decided for sure yet. I definitely want to take the time to re-read 100 SIDEWAYS MILES.

I want to write 2000 words a day on vacation, at least; in fact, the best thing ever would be if I could finally finish banging out this rough draft I'm working on. It's meandered quite a bit in the writing, but I think I'm finally on the right track and ready for the race to the climax.

And, of course, like all good vacations, it will include as much tea as I can drink and as much Persian food as I can eat.

09 March 2015

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

When I was fifteen years old I had a pretty severe depressive episode. I missed a month of school because I couldn't make myself get out of the house. I spent most of those days holed up in my room reading fantasy novels (admittedly, of the product-placement genre...I was really into Magic: The Gathering at the time and devoured all the tie-in novels).

I never really felt like there were any books out there that addressed what it was like to be me, but then again, I didn't necessarily want to be reminded of what it was like to be me, anyway. I didn't have the resources (or the wherewithal) to find books that might have spoken to my experience. I'd never even heard of Sylvia Plath at that age.

I've only recently started finding books that tackle the subject of depression (or other mental illnesses) in a meaningful, compassionate way. FANGIRL and I WAS HERE both examined the issue from an observer's perspective, and did it well. But MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is the first book I've read that gave the narrator a mental illness.

I wish this book had been around for me when I was a kid.

In MY HEART, sixteen-year-old Aysel struggles with a case of depression so severe that she is consciously preparing to commit suicide. She's too afraid to do it on her own, though, so she seeks out a partner on an internet suicide support group. The kind that supports suicide, to be clear. There, she meets FrozenRobot, aka Roman, who becomes her suicide partner.

A grim setup, to be sure, but MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is anything but. It's tender and sad, brutal and honest, but not grim. Things are what they are. Aysel knows something is wrong with her but can't fight it. She makes frequent reference to the black slug living inside her, eating her feelings. It's a perfect metaphor: you know it's there inside you, you can feel it messing up your mind, but you are powerless against it.

And yet, as Aysel and Roman grow closer, they bring out parts of the other that seemed long gone. The ability to hope, to see yourself as better than you are. That's at the very...ahem...heart of the story.

My own experience dealing with other people struggling with depression has, unfortunately, never been so positive. I generally have one of two reactions: either we both get more depressed, or I turn into an asshole to the other person, as if I can fight off depression by being mean to them.

It was nice, beautiful even, to see Aysel and Roman have the opposite effect on each other. Which brings me to my other point. There is a pretty big difference between situational depression and chronic depression. Not in how it's treated, necessarily, or in how it affects one's life, but in the hope for management versus recovery. When it's chronic, well, you manage it, but it's always there, always clouding over the back of your mind, no matter how sunny you're feeling. With situational depression, it's more acute: something terrible happened (as in Roman's case), but there were no problems there before.

I don't know that it matters, much, which kind Roman and Aysel were suffering from. But part of me wanted to see that addressed.

I suppose I've managed to talk about everything but the story. What can I say? I kept bookmarking passages that spoke to me, little bits of truth that Aysel revealed about herself and about what life was like for me back then. The connection was intense.

All I can say is, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is one of my favorite books this year.

05 March 2015

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's THE SERPENT OF VENICE was a novelty to me: a historical farce (who knew such a thing existed?), a mash-up of Shakespeare and Poe (The Merchant of Venice, Othello, plus a little dash of The Cask of Amontillado), and, most of all, absolutely breathtaking wordplay.

Seriously. I've told several people, and I plan to tell anyone else who will listen: The man deserves a Pulitzer for his wordplay. He would make the Bard himself blush.

Lots of fans have posted quotes on THE SERPENT OF VENICE's Goodreads page, so I won't exhaust you, but I would like to point out a few favorites:

“The two had been together since they were little girls, and so loved and hated each other like sisters.”

“I'm feeling full of tiny princes, bustling to get out into the world and start plotting against one another.” 

I don't know for certain that Moore coined the phrase "Heinous fuckery most foul," but if he didn't, he certainly perfected its use.

The plot was actually rather brilliant, interweaving elements of the three source materials, molded to fit into a contemporaneous story and coupled with Moore's research: Pocket, the Fool, takes the place (and occasionally the name) of Poe's Fortunato, and is interred by Montressor Brabantio, Iago, and Antonio, who are conspiring together to plunge Venice into war.

Things spiral out of control from there, with ghosts, horny mermaids, Marco Polo, a Jewish lady pirate, and more. All the while, Moore's wit and humor shine through. I think the caper is to intricately plotted that, if you took away the humor, it would make an excellent political thriller, though it would certainly be diminished.

I read plenty of Shakespeare in both high school and college, as well as some Edgar Allen Poe, but I never got that much enjoyment out of them as a teenager. If I had been given this book first, I bet I would have enjoyed them a lot more. I know I will enjoy revisiting the source materials to see how Moore crafted his canny comic caper.

04 March 2015

David Gilmour's New Tour

So, it was announced today that David Gilmour's going to be touring this September. In Europe. Where I do not live.

This makes me very sad.

I sincerely hope he'll add dates for the United States, or at least SOMEWHERE in North America.

And, it sounds like his new album will be released this year. So, yea!

Meanwhile, I've been learning the slide guitar parts to "Surfacing" from THE ENDLESS RIVER. Take a listen. It is awesome.

03 March 2015

Civias Acanteo Grillo


More adventures with Sicilian wines! This white, made from the Grillo grape, was amazing.

It was pale yellow, and the nose was bursting with melon and lemon peel scents, along with a slight chalky backbone.

The taste bore out the scents, with more melons (it reminded me a little bit of Midori, though not as tart or sweet), with zippy acidity that tickled my tongue and enough minerality to smooth out the rough edges.

Utterly drinkable, utterly delicious. And less than $15 a bottle, too!

02 March 2015

On Internet Things

In his book KING DORK, Frank Portman wrote:

You can feel you're close to someone you hardly know; people do all the time.

I think that's especially true of the Internet.

I follow several blogs, and try to comment on them when I feel I have something pertinent (or at least pithy) to say; I follow 88 people on Twitter (I prune my list pretty aggressively) and have my little circle of humans on Google+, though almost all of the ones on Google+ are people I know in real life.

Nonetheless, when I write something on Twitter that gets the attention of someone who is, essentially, a stranger, I still get a rush, even when I know I shouldn't.

The same goes for when someone reads and replies to a comment I made. "Oh, wow! The world has noticed me!"

I don't know if everyone has this problem.  I seem to recall some research being done on this topic - I'm pretty sure I read that there's a cascade of endorphins people get from using and social media - but I have noticed I'm particularly susceptible to it, and have been from the earliest days of social media, and even before that, my misspent youth on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). As a teenager I invested so heavily in online friendships with people I barely knew, so much that it took a pretty serious toll on my mental health.

These days, I still find myself checking a page two or three times a day to see if anyone has replied to one of my comments.

I have to work quite hard to keep myself from obsessing.

I guess that's all I have to say today. I just needed to get that out.