Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Month In Review and of Things to Come

The End is Nigh! At least for February. Feb-rue-air-e. Worst word in any language, ever. I thought it would be a slow month for reading, considering the limited days and that I was busy finishing a bookcase--the stacks on my floor finally started to bother me.

I made it through five books this month, which is one more than normal for me.

Guy Gavriel Kay's Finovar Tapestry has helped to restore some of my faith in heroic fantasy, previously my favorite genre. It's a trilogy in which none of the three books felt superfluous and the dialogue wasn't cringe inducing. While it leaned heavily on Tolkien's The Silmarillion (of which Kay was the unofficial ghostwriter) it was fun to read in the familiar, 'comfort zone' of fantasy so to speak. It felt like a great writer's first effort. I don't know how the Arthurian legend got introduced in the second book, and I'm not sure it lent any real strength to the story, but I'm looking forward to checking out more of Kay's offerings.

I can't put together a litany of praise long enough to talk about how much I loved Harlem Redux by Persia Walker.

The last book I read this month was The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes. It was weird in a Neverwhere Neil Gaiman kind of way: good weird, though not Gaiman good. Not painful by any means, but underwhelming to the end. I don't say this as a bad thing, but to me, it felt decidedly, "English," if you know what I mean. If the awesomeness of the title triggered your imagination to think something awesome, keep looking. Sadly, the awesome that the title suggested to you is not in between these covers. In consolation of awesome there is, however, a good story.

The Ron Barcelo Imperial Rum along with another I'll be reviewing in March were easily this month's greatest discoveries. And speaking of next month, I'm going to try a little something different; not with the drinking, rather my reading: Non-fiction.

Kinda foreign territory for me. Steven Hawkin's A brief History of Time is of true interest to me because I'm a nerd. It is also the only book with more reprints and hundreds of different editions than the Christian Bible. Nabokov's Speak, Memory is surely more than the greatest title for a memoir ever. And Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf made me laugh out loud just reading the preview. Any one have any crucial non-fiction suggestions for me?

I plan to sneak some fiction in there as well. I have three relatively short volumes that I think I can add to my reading load without cause for worry.

Oh, yeah, I also plan to not buy any books in March as a cost saving venture… we'll see how well that goes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Harlem Redux by Persia Walker

I had initially planned on writing one of my little commentaries on Harlem Redux by Persia Walker. However, the best of problems arose while reading the book and stopped me from doing so: I enjoyed it too much.

I never took notes on the writing or the affects the book had on me as a reader. This was simply one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I've ever had. Now that I've finished the book and enjoyed it so much any commentary I could offer would be an inane list of superlatives rambling on for pages.

I don't read a lot of historical or crime fiction so perhaps I was merely taken with what a new-ish-to-me genres had to offer. More so than any literary device employed was the social commentary, inherent to the book, that was pertinent at the time of the story's telling and equally so today.

Walker succeeded in giving the reader a lot to think about long after the story is done. I can think of no greater victory as a writer. I haven't re-read a book in years. I plan to do so with this one shortly.

If I were one to do, 'best of' list or rattle off my personal favorites, this would be somewhere in the top five. Harlem Redux has it's share of problems, but it struck a chord with me, and if I have any influence at all in making suggestions to readers; the summation of the commentary I would've written would be: essential reading.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Save your nice for Valentine's Day

Or Mother's Day, your anniversary, or a significant others' birthday, etc. Because anything you do on a day that is not mandated to be special by the Hallmark calendar is a wasted effort. Naturally, I'm addressing a solely male audience here. (Is there any expectation of a woman to do anything for a man on Valentine's? The answer is no, if you are unsure. Is that lack due to male feelings of indifference or society telling us, 'Valentine's is a woman's holiday.")

I'm speaking from personal experience and to further drive home my feelings on the matter neither of the aggrieved women I have in mind are shallow people. They just wanted what they felt was due to them on their 'special days.' The random acts of kindness in the world seem to be dying out with good reason. Strangers in our lives seem to appreciate such acts more so than people we know and live with. Don't plan a big romantic night out or call to say, 'I love you' unless it is one of those days you are supposed to do so. If there is nothing special about Tuesday night, don't make anything special out of it. That would be cursory.

However, if you do make a big to do on a special day, well then, it means something. To any of my fellow 'good guys' out there who have been slighted for not doing the right thing on the right day, or to any who have nothing but apathy for perceived sentimental offenses, do not despair. I have the remedy.

One jigger or rum ( look here, and here for suggestions ) one jigger of pineapple juice, half a jigger of strawberry schnapps. Ice a tumble and a healthy does of lime juice. It cures all pains and ails... for a little while.

To any offended, make yourself the above libation and in all possible ways, relax.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rum Reviews: The Second Installment

Welcome to the second entry in my continuing series where I will give you the skinny on the good, the wretched, and the divine concerning what you should be drinking: rum.

It was currency in the Caribbean in the old days, George Washington demanded it be served at his inauguration, Ernest Hemingway lived off a diet of rum and shark flesh during his stint in Cuba, and now I'm here to help you navigate the top, the bottom, and all shelves in between concerning one of the world's greatest treasures.

Nothing fruity here, no flavored spirits to hide terrible production, or inept craftsmanship, just the booze. Feel free to suggest what you will for future installments and liquor representatives are more than welcome to provide me with your product concerning tasting and review.

Ron Barcelo Imperial

This bottle is a gem. Initially, I was gonna try to sound impartial, but I couldn't keep all the positive feelings inside. It's not so thick as to give you problems getting it down, but it does have some texture. It's flavors and richness is balanced by a thin fiery punch that lets you know your drinking. It mixes well in everything, and gives you the impression of drinking something much more expensive than it really is. This one was a gift and possibly the best gift ever; twenty dollars and I'd never heard of it before. Bacardi maybe be more economical at the same price for a handle, but this is something special.

Verdict: Quality for your dollar there may be nothing better. Hell, for many many many more dollars you can do a lot worse. Wow.

Cruzan Aged Rum

It's good… If you take out the cringe inducing quality inherent in Bacardi you'd have this particular Cruzan. To be aged two years there aren't a lot of substantial characteristics to talk about. Pretty middle of the road stuff. Price may be an (good) issue in making the purchase, it cost me $11.99 for a 750ml bottle (awesome). As is evidence of it's two year age this particular rum is light brown in color. There was also a two year old clear rum from Cruzan that I passed on. I guess it had been aged, then filtered and bleached… or something like that. On principle, I'd be wary that bottle. This is a party-starting, budget rum of a slightly better quality than Bacardi but no real renown.

Verdict: No reason to drink it alone, but price is what we're looking at here. It's nothing to write home about, but I'm also not complaining.

10 Canes

I call this "New Age" rum. Much in the same fashion as new New Age wine. There are wines being made with less barrel aging, which lead to decreased tannins which ultimately leads to sooner approachability. Consumers don't have to buy their vino and put it in a cellar for years, before they attempt to enjoy a drink, it's ready to go much faster. The final product is also a bit lighter and less intense in flavor and the cost is generally more favorable than the traditional "Olde World" vino. End wine tangent.

In terms of rum, this is lighter than a typical aged rum and a bit cleaner in taste without so many flavors going on. It's not so aggressive on the palette. This new style is not really my thing in general, but to the goal the producers were trying to reach, I'd say they succeeded. In the case of 10 cane, there is not a lot--if any--barrel aging going on.

At first taste I felt it had more in common with cachaca (a Brazilian stepchild) than rum. I think it's well done for what the manufacturer is trying to achieve, but it's not to my liking. It's in the style and flavor of the Depaz but done to a much better extent across the board. It's a bit too light, too much alcohol taste, and not enough flavor for me. Drinking it alone you may not think you're drinking rum and mixed it has a very peculiar aftertaste that isn't altogether unpleasant but is a distraction from the enjoyment of your beverage.

Verdict: If it weren't for the price ($35) I'd say, "meh." All things considered, it cost too much to be only what it is… "Stay away." Perhaps if it had nine canes, or eleven canes…

You'll want to check out last month's highlights if you missed them and be sure to check back next month as I will bring you more of the best, worst, and the in between. I promise to even feature a high end product worth the price. All things concerning rum: what you should be drinking.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Advantage of Being Neil Gaiman

I just finished M is for Magic and realized that this was the second time I had skipped over, "The Witch's Headstone." I had read it before elsewhere and I had skipped over it before else-elsewhere. Then I got curious. How many times has this short story been published?

The first was in Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy published in 2007. The second was in Gaiman's own collection, M is for Magic also published in 2007. And as best I can tell, the third time was in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two published in 2008. Anyone know of any other releases of this story?

All of this led up to publication of The Graveyard Book September 30, 2008 where the above short story now masquerades appears as chapter four. That's at least three times more exposure than the average short story receives.

I wonder if the constant release of the same story did anything to boost sales of The Graveyard Book. Perhaps keeping the work in the front of the minds of voters and panelist for the multitude of awards The Graveyard Book has won didn't hurt anything...

There are so many writers who struggle to sell a story once, let alone indulge the thought of three successive reprints.

I guess that's the power of a well-known, accomplished writer's name. It's good to be him.