Wine Reviews for January ’17

February 3, 2017 Home Sweet Home, In the Kitchen, Just for Fun, Wine 0

Well, I was bound to hit a “dud” sooner or later.

Pretty (& cheap) in pink

A photo posted by Louise (@bibliothekla) on

Let’s just get this out of the way: I picked this up because (a) it is pretty and (b) it is cheap. This is your classic “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s. I’ve got some pretty intense love/hate feelings for Trader Joe’s, but the Charles Shaw wines I’ve tried in the past haven’t been bad. Your basic table wines, sure, but worth a bit more than the price point would suggest.

I guess I was expecting this to taste more like a rosé/rosato — light and refreshingly fruity. But this stuff is sweet as all get-out.

It’s a pretty shade of pink, sure. It smelled like some unidentifiable fruit juice or chemically fruit-flavored product — like pink Starbursts, maybe. And it tasted pretty much exactly the way it smelled. I ended up eating it with some extremely salty, savory foods to cut the sweetness (BBQ potato chips and a cheeseburger with onion + jalapeños).

Let me be clear — this is not precisely a “bad” wine. It’s just uninteresting and sugary. You get what you pay for with this particular type of Charles Shaw.

Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 1 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

January 30, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 10

Welcome to the Oz! Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Book 1 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Dorothy thinks she’s lost forever when a tornado whirls her and her dog, Toto, into a magical world. To get home, she must find the wonderful wizard in the Emerald City of Oz. On the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. But the Wicked Witch of the West has her own plans for the new arrival — will Dorothy ever see Kansas again?

My Thoughts:

I vaguely remember reading this as a kid, but unsurprisingly the book story was supplanted by the movie story in my memory and the only thing I really recalled from the book was the whimsical illustrations and Dorothy’s silver shoes. But some scenes came back to me during this little re-read: Boq the Munchkin, the dainty people of China Country (my favorites for some reason), the goofy green glasses worn in Emerald City, and the Wicked Witch having only one eye.

There seemed to be rather a lot more gore and property destruction than I remembered, too, what with all the chopping off of heads and the smashing up of buildings and suchlike. Probably not the kind of story that could get a G rating if Disney tried a true-to-the-book animated film version these days — not that I’m complaining, it just wasn’t expected. I seem to have taken it all in stride when I read it as a child, which seems to be pretty common — grown-ups notice and are sometimes shocked by “bad” things in stories that kiddos wouldn’t blink an eye at.

A lot of the characters (all of them?) are not all that well fleshed-out. And a lot of them are just idiots. Still, it’s a charming little story, and I’m a huge sucker for creative/insane world-building, so that wasn’t too much of a problem for me. There are better children’s fantasy books out there these days, but it’s easy for me to see why this one was so well-loved in its time and gained “classic” status so quickly.

  • Have you read this book before? How did your re-read match up with your memory? Or if you haven’t read it before, did the book live up to your expectations?
  • If you’ve seen the 1939 musical film, how do you think the book compares? Do you like one a whole lot better than the other?
  • Did you have a favorite character or culture/land?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.

East of Eden
by John Steinbeck

January 29, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★ ★

East of Eden by John Steinbeck | Originally published 1952, this ed. 2002 | Penguin| Paperback $16

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

This book was a late addition to my Classics Club list. I’d tried to read Middlemarch and just could NOT get into it, so I asked for help picking a replacement and this is the title that was most commonly recommended. So — thanks, y’all, for convincing me to read this book!

I was a little intimidated by this chunkster, but needn’t have been. It’s true that it dragged a bit in spots and included some rather heavy-handed moralizing on the part of the narrator, but overall it read more like an old but clever relative telling an important family story — a kind of family story for the country as a whole, perhaps.

Plus, the prose was simply lovely. The content was not often lovely, no, mostly quite the opposite actually, but Steinbeck was unquestionably a master of prose. Take this example from Chapter 7 (no spoilers):

Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the full eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy — that’s the time that seems long in memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.

Have you read East of Eden, or any other Steinbeck novel? How did you like it?


Publication information: Steinbeck, John East of Eden. Penguin: New York, 2002. Print.
Source: Personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

B is for … The Boys

January 28, 2017 Just for Fun, Narcissism 4

I’m doing a kind of “A-to-Z Selfie” project for 2017. This involves writing blog posts of a personal nature. If you’re interested in the topic, please feel free to chime in! If not, you’ll be happy to know that more bookish content will be published soon.

It’s no secret that I’m a cat person. Also, a dog person. Yes, both, both is good.

The spouse and I currently live to serve 2 young cats and 1 middle-aged dog.

Sneakers is a 10ish-year-old, possibly-Chiweenie. We adopted him from the animal shelter in my hometown after one of our previous cats died unexpectedly. We had gone to the shelter to look for another cat, but decided to walk through the dog kennels first just for the heck of it. Sneakers was the in the first cage in the first row, right by the entrance. And, because we’re huge suckers, we fell for his big puppy eyes right away. (There were also some ducks in there for some reason, so … at least we didn’t try to bring those home?)

He’s grown into a loyal, cuddly, kinda silly little dude. He’s been a pretty good “big brother” to the other 4-legged boys. He has sensitive skin and a slightly sensitive tummy and is missing a few teeth, but otherwise has been pretty healthy. And he takes his job as Head of Homeland Security very seriously.

Bentley is our little gray tabby boy. He has long legs that he doesn’t seem to be 100% in control of, but he’s also an accomplished bug hunter and a “singer” when he’s hungry or worried. (I imagine he could be part Siamese or similar because of his short, silky coat and his talkativeness.) He’s also the smartest of our trio, being the one who always figures out how to take apart the toys or knows how to be sneaky when breaking rules.

Oliver might not be quite as clever as his less-floofy brother, but he is a champion cuddler. He’s also very curious and doesn’t seem to have any sense of fear (or worry about being caught breaking rules). He also has a sensitive tummy — which seems to be a bit of a theme in our family, count me in — but is otherwise literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed pretty much all the time. Oliver likes thieving things (pens, mail, anything a human is trying to use but has put down for a moment), chasing The Dot, and “nursing” on his blankie.

Bentley and Oliver came to us from a local animal shelter that was having a cat clearance sale and had an ongoing BOGO deal for littermates. These poor guys had already been adopted and had to be returned to the shelter because their previous owner couldn’t keep them. So, these little “discount cats” came home with us instead.

You can read a bit more about my nice little family (incl. the spouse) on the Cast of Characters page. Want more pet pictures? Follow me on Instagram.

Do you have any animals? Would you consider yourself more of a cat person, a dog person, or both?

Found Memories | An Armadillo Quilt

January 23, 2017 Found Memories, Home Sweet Home 7

“Found Memories” is a series of little vignettes featuring a few of our favorite things and the memories associated with them.

Armadillo Quilt

I wanted to start off this series with something impressive and unique, so of course I had to show you my beloved armadillo quilt!

This quilt was made by one of my mother’s oldest friends, who is a nurse and a loving parent/grandparent as well as a talented quilter. She and my mother used to take me and her own daughter on a yearly shopping trip to the outlets to stock up on clothes and school supplies at the end of the summer. It was both fun and a kind of endurance test!

One year, on a late drive back home, we saw an armadillo in the road… and promptly ran over it. I’d never seen a (temporarily) live one before, and told them so — and so, the armadillo became a long-standing kind of theme for our little group. Hence, the armadillo print!

This quilt was gifted to me for my high school graduation. I’m so impressed that she managed to even find a rainbow armadillo fabric, on top of being impressed at the lovely pattern on the front and the high quality of the stitching. It was made with love and care and good humor, and I’m extremely proud to have it!

Do you have a favorite quilt or a blanket that was made just for you?

The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation
by Randall Fuller

January 22, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 6

★ ★ ★ ★

The Book That Changed America by Randall Fuller | January 2017 | Viking | Hardcover $27

Throughout its history America has been torn in two by debates over ideals and beliefs. Randall Fuller takes us back to one of those turning points, in 1860, with the story of the influence of Charles Darwin s just-published On the Origin of Species on five American intellectuals, including Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, the child welfare reformer Charles Loring Brace, and the abolitionist Franklin Sanborn.

I absolutely jumped at the chance to get a review copy of this title from Edelweiss. Science? Antebellum American history?? A book about a book??? Yes, please.

I read Darwin’s account of his adventures as a young naturalist (Voyage of the Beagle) just a few months ago. Even though I didn’t give it a full 5 stars, it’s one of those books that has stuck with me — you know the kind I mean, like when random bits of news or conversations will suddenly remind you of a scene from the book or an impression it gave you.

In my review of that book, I mentioned that Darwin seemed to accept his colonialist culture’s prejudice against indigenous peoples as a matter of course. An acquaintance of mine pointed out that Darwin was actually an abolitionist, and some of his statements that might sound paternalizing to contemporary readers were in fact pretty radical for his own time.

In an 1862 letter to Asa Gray, a scientist at Harvard who was the first to read On the Origin of Species in the U.S., Darwin wrote (in reference to the Civil War):

But slavery seems to me to grow a more hopeless curse. […] This war of yours, however it may end, is a fearful evil to the whole world; & its evil effect will, I must think, be felt for years.

The Book That Changed America is an examination of the ways in which Darwin’s idea of biological evolution by means of natural selection influenced the scientists, authors, and social reformers who read it — and therefore influenced the trajectory of our country. Non-Americans (and many Americans, too) are often baffled by our country’s long-standing issues with the acceptance of the scientific theory of evolution. I think this book helps to explain why evolution has been so contentious for us — because the idea is all wrapped up in our national troubles with the repercussions of slavery and institutionalized racism as well as the popular (yet flawed) idea of our history as a Protestant Christian nation.

The book is written in a narrative style that makes the profiled individuals feel more like interesting characters than plain old names out of history books, which I mostly enjoyed. Some bits kinda dragged for me, and there were a few little tangents from the main story that I found frustrating. And I would have liked to see viewpoints from folks outside of the particular little intellectual circle that the author focused on — politicians involved in the events leading up to the war, African-Americans, Southerners, and maybe just “everyday people” sorts, you know?

Regardless, I did enjoy the read and would recommend this book to people who are interested in the history of the theory of evolution as well as anyone who’d like to learn a little more about science-based abolitionist perspectives prior to the American Civil War.

Publication information: Fuller, Randall. . New York: Viking, 2017. EPUB.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Movie Musicals Challenge –
The King and I

January 21, 2017 Just for Fun, Movies 8

Time for another selection from the Movie Musicals Challenge!

The King and I is another re-watch for me. More than that, though, it was a little trip down memory lane — when I was a kid, I was in a local theater production of this musical (as one of the king’s many children). It was an enriching experience and I’ll forever be able to recite certain scenes word-for-word… but I also experienced my first instance of paralyzing stage fright during one show, so that’s kind of a cringe-inducing memory in particular.

The music, of course, is grand and sweeping and moving. And the scenery and costumes are so gorgeous — I kept pausing the movie just to sort of look around and take in all the rich visuals. BUT it’s also kind of a mid-century American interpretation of a colonial-era Englishwoman’s(*) memories of a very foreign land, so… great as the audio and visual components may be, I wouldn’t exactly rely on them to be historically accurate, you know?

Despite my personal attachment to this musical, I can’t ignore its undercurrent of stereotypical orientalism. However, I also can’t pretend to know enough about this particular cultural issue or the story’s historical context to be able to lead an in-depth discussion on it. So I would simply remind any potential viewers that this is a nearly 70-year-old American theater version of a slightly older novel based on a 19th century memoir written by a white-passing mixed race expatriate.

One of my favorite scenes is the play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin that Tuptim presents towards the end of the film, which is based on a traditional type of Thai drama-dance called khon. This play-within-a-play is beautifully done and I can’t think of anything else quite like it in musical theater.

Have you watched this movie or seen the musical performed live? What did you think of it?

Quick Classics Club Update

January 20, 2017 Books, Meta 6

This is just a quick little post to let y’all know that I’ve updated my Classics Club page. It now includes my original list, arranged by title with color-coded categories, and two other arrangements: by time period, and by geographic origin.

And because I’m apparently completely bonkers, I’ve already been working on future Classics Club list(s)… with well over 200 titles to play with (and growing), I felt like I needed to be a bit more organized! Hence, the multiple sorting options.

I’m still debating on whether I ought to call for peanut gallery opinions on future CC picks. Or maybe I should publish the list(s) ahead of time to provide opportunity for comment. What do you think?

Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 1 – The Eye of the World

January 15, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 9

Welcome to the Two Rivers… and the rest of the world of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Book 1 – The Eye of the World

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

My Thoughts:

I remember thinking the first time I read this book that it was very Lord of the Rings-y. And it is, right up until the end — purposefully, obviously. There are the clear parallels between characters (Lan = Aragorn, for example), outright rip-offs (Mountains of Mist = Misty Mountains), and then the winking references that seem meant to tell Tolkien fans that it’s all in good fun (The Nine Rings, an inn named after an adventure story that our MC Rand really likes). Now, upon re-reading it and taking the series as a whole into account, I kinda think the LotR references/homages are bordering on red herring status.

Something else I remembered about my initial read of these books was how much my opinions of the characters changed over the course of the series. Not gonna go into a whole lot of detail about this because I do want to avoid spoilers for newbie readers, but I do think it speaks to Jordan’s skill with character development over the long term. Of course, there is PLENTY of room for character development over the course of 15 books….

I’m glad I chose to re-read this series, in large part because it’s so enjoyable to see all the little clues that Jordan seriously planned ahead plot-wise. There are the hints from Min, of course, but there are also little clues scattered in the dialogue and behavior of the characters. I’d say the writing kind of got away from him and the series is at least one book too long, but it doesn’t change the fact that this story is a feat of calculation/foresight.

  • What did you think of the parallels to LotR? Fun, annoying, not worth mentioning?
  • If you’ve read this series before, did your opinions about some characters change as the series went on? Or have you had a favorite character or OTP ship from the very start?
  • If you haven’t read this series before, do you really like or dislike any particular characters right now?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.

Where do you get your news?

January 14, 2017 Just for Fun 10

I try not to get bogged down in politics here on my lil’ ol’ blog — although I’m not going to try to hide my opinions, either. Not gonna lie, various political or politics-related subjects have been taking up a lot of my brainspace and emotional energy lately.

And with all the talk about our “post-truth” culture these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about where we get our news from and how it affects a person’s outlook + is affected by a person’s outlook.

So, I’m interested in hearing about your preferred news sources. Where do you get your news — be it political, cultural, professional, etc. — from, and how do you think those sources reflect/affect your own opinions or decisions?

These are my main sources of news right now:


About this resource:

National Public Radio is an American privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States. NPR produces and distributes news and cultural programming. Its flagships are two drive time news broadcasts, Morning Edition and the afternoon All Things Considered; both are carried by most NPR member stations, and are two of the most popular radio programs in the country.

NPR might lean a bit liberal, but it really depends on which show you’re listening to and which topic they’re covering. When I’m not listening to an audiobook, I like to listen to the morning and afternoon news on NPR on my way to/from work — although lately I’ve had to change the channel back and forth from music for the sake of my blood pressure.

The Houston Chronicle

About this resource:

The Houston Chronicle is the largest daily newspaper in Houston, Texas. As of April 2016, it is the third-largest newspaper by Sunday circulation in the United States. It is the largest daily paper owned and operated by the Hearst Corporation, a privately held multinational corporate media conglomerate. The publication serves as the “newspaper of record” of the Houston area.

This newspaper has been accused of liberal bias fairly frequently, but you have to keep in mind that this is a newspaper for a big, about-as-liberal-as-you-get-outside-Austin city in a very, very red state. I think it does a pretty fair job of reporting on local and state issues and it and its journalists have won/been nominated for several awards, including Lisa Falkenberg’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

The Galveston County Daily News

About this resource:

The Daily News is a newspaper published in Galveston, Texas. It was first published April 11, 1842, making it the oldest newspaper in the state. The newspaper founded The Dallas Morning News in 1885 as a sister publication. It currently serves as the newspaper of record for the City of Galveston as well as Galveston County.

This is more of a typical mid-size town newspaper than the behemoth Chronicle and the topics it covers tend to be more hyper-local and the quality of the reporting/writing/editing is proportional to its size. I personally have kind of ambivalent feelings about this newspaper for kolaches-related reasons (don’t get me started on the Great Kolaches War of 2014), but I end up flipping through it 3 or 4 times a week.


About this resource:

JSTOR is a digital library founded in 1995. Originally containing digitized back issues of academic journals, it now also includes books and primary sources, and current issues of journals. In addition to weekly feature articles, JSTOR Daily publishes short daily blog posts that provide the backstory to complex issues of the day in a variety of subject areas, interviews with and profiles of scholars and their work, and more.

Fairly neutral on the political spectrum, perhaps because its articles focus on looking at current events through the lenses of history and related academic scholarship rather than spinning out up-to-the-minute stories. This is probably the “nerdiest” news source I regularly read, but I can’t help it, JSTOR is just pretty great.

Texas Monthly

About this resource:

Texas Monthly is a monthly American magazine headquartered in Austin, Texas. It chronicles life in contemporary Texas, writing on politics, the environment, industry, and education. The magazine also covers leisure topics such as music, art, dining, and travel. Texas Monthly takes as its premise that Texas began as a distinctive place and remains so. It is the self-appointed arbiter of all things culturally Texan.

Texas Monthly has been accused of liberal bias, but again, this is Texas, so anything other than pro-gun, pro-life, pro-football, and pro-chili-with-no-beans-ever content is going to get flagged as leaning a little too blue. I especially enjoy the Bum Steer Awards and the Ten Best/Worst lists.


About this resource:

Slate is an English-language online current affairs, politics and culture magazine in the United States. According to editor Julia Turner, the magazine is “not fundamentally a breaking news source,” but rather aimed at helping readers to “analyze and understand and interpret the world” with witty and entertaining writing.

Slate has a reputation for being particularly left-leaning and — annoyingly in some cases — contrarian in a pretty click-baity way. Not gonna lie, I usually visit the site for one of my favorite “agony aunt” columns, Dear Prudence (yeah, got a weird addiction to advice columns), but end up browsing the news and culture articles as well. I also really like doing their weekly news quiz just to see how in touch I am with current events (usually about average, nothing to brag about).

Other frequent sources of news (or sometimes “news”) via Twitter, shared links from friends, and so forth:
The Guardian
The Texas Tribune
Wall Street Journal

Note: News resource descriptions are from Wikipedia.