Wine Reviews for December ’16

January 6, 2017 Home Sweet Home, In the Kitchen, Just for Fun, Wine 2

Of course I had to pick up something bubbly for the holidays. Good Champagne is way out of budget for us right now, so I grabbed a bottle of Prosecco to try!

A little bubbly for a rainy New Year's Eve ✨✨✨

A photo posted by Louise (@bibliothekla) on

Dellatorri Prosecco DOC Brut

Italy, 2015

Very pale in color, and nicely bubbly (but not super bubbly). Not as rich as I like my wines to be, but not too sweet either — the husband liked it well enough, and he’s normally a beer drinker, so I think this wine could be described as non-oenophile-friendly. I got kind of a floral, lightly fruity (pear?) taste but otherwise couldn’t distinguish major flavors. It almost reminds me of one of those perfumes that strives to be popular yet unobtrusive, with a quite mix of undefined yet generally pleasing floral/fruit notes.

We ordered pizza and that totally overwhelmed the wine, so I’d say it’s probably better to drink this alone or with simpler snacks like dark chocolate or not-too-sharp cheese or herby crackers.


Overambitious Plans for 2017 and Beyond

December 31, 2016 Meta 12

Happy New Year’s Eve, my friends!

I don’t typically make resolutions at this time of year, but I do think it’s a convenient period for reevaluating what I’ve got going on here at this lil’ ol’ blog of mine.

Take a look at my Current Projects page, where I’ll be keeping track of of my progress towards some of these goals.


Challenges:

Wizard of Oz Read-Along

I’ll be reading L. Frank Baum’s 14-book Oz series starting in January. Want to join me? Sign up HERE.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along

I will also be reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (+ Brandon Sanderson) over the next 15 months. You can join me on this epic journey, too.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Foodies Read

This will be the 3rd year that I’ve signed up for this reading challenge. It’s being hosted again in 2017 by Heather at Based on a True Story. I’m going with the “à la carte” option because I’m just not sure how many foodie books I’ll have time for this year, but I still want to participate and read other foodies’ reviews too.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Back to the Classics Challenge

Several bloggers that I follow have done/are doing this challenge, and I thought it would be a nice tie-in with my Classics Club reading goals (below). If I stick to my reading plan, I should be able to accomplish at least 6 if not 9 of this year’s categories. This challenge is being hosted by Karen at Books & Chocolate.

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Classics Club Catch-Up

I signed up for the Classics Club back in 2014, but I’m not even halfway through my list yet. One of my goals for this year is to really buckle down and prioritize these books. You can see my full list here.

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Movie Musicals Challenge

Even though this challenge is only supposed to take up 1 year, I’m nowhere near finished with it — but I do think that these films are interesting and culturally important, so I’m going to go ahead and extend this into 2017.


Blogging:

Post at least 8 times per month

I’ve been posting kind of inconsistently since I started blogging here a little over 5 years ago. Sometimes I would try to follow a schedule for a month or two, but I would soon run out of ideas or blogging mojo and would start to slack off again.

For the past couple of months I’ve been brainstorming and planning and drafting posts with the intention of building up a “hope chest” of ready-made blog posts + creativity-sparking ideas. Fair warning — some of these blog posts will be a little more personal in nature rather than bookish.


Reading:

Do a better job of noting where/from whom I heard about a book when adding it to my TBR

I haven’t been in the habit of tracking the details of recommendations — my usual method goes something like:

  1. See an interesting title (“Oh, shiny!”)
  2. Add it to my to-read list on Goodreads (“Gimme gimme!”)

So… yeah. I need to remember to give credit where credit is due, not least because this might help me figure out where I’m getting most of my TBR titles from.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Develop a more diverse to-read list

One thing that quickly became obvious to me when I took a closer look at my Classics Club list earlier this year is that I need to work on consuming a more diverse reading diet. I’ve already started working on my next CC list (yes, even though I’m nowhere near finished with my first one — I just like making lists, OK, shut up) and I’m seeking out more books from women, non-white, non-English-language, and pre-19th century authors.


Miscellaneous:

Work towards meeting those 30-by-30 goals

My deadline for my 30 by 30 project is coming up pretty soon (/gulp). Although it’s clear that I’ll never be able to manage some of the goals at this point, there are still a few things that I don’t want to leave undone. Wish me luck!


2016: The Year that Was

December 29, 2016 Meta 8

WE ARE ALMOST DONE WITH THIS HELL-SPAWNED YEAR, Y’ALL.

Ehem. Sorry about the all caps, it’s just that… well, 2016 has been super weird and not in a cool way, right?

That’s not what this post is about. There are plenty of thinkpieces out there on this topic that are probably more eloquent than I can hope to be on this subject. But really, I’m just happy about finally being able to tell 2016 to get the eff outta here.


This is actually a wrap-up post for 3 different challenges:

Foodies Read

I ended up reading 8 books for Foodies Read this year:

Introductory Post

  1. The Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury — Reviewed 18 June 2016
  2. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson — Reviewed 27 Feburary 2016
  3. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt — Reviewed 31 January 2016
  4. Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm — From Scratch by Lucie Amundsen — Reviewed 9 May 2016
  5. Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack – Reviewed 4 September 2016
  6. Community Cookbooks of West Texas – Special Feature, 19 November 2016

My favorite of these was probably Locally Laid by Lucy Amundsen, but Wine Folly and The Food Lab both tie for a close second — and, of course, the community cookbooks have a special place in my heart.

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

I didn’t do as well with this project as I’d intended, but I honestly don’t feel TOO bad about this. After all, 10 books is better than 0 books.

Introductory Post

  1. Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury — Reviewed 18 June 2016
  2. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson — Reviewed 27 February 2016
  3. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt — Reviewed 31 January 2016
  4. Foundation by Isaac Asimov — Reviewed 29 January 2016
  5. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall — Reviewed 26 March 2016
  6. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle — Reviewed 22 December 2016
  7. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum — Reviewed 23 December 2016
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Reviewed 6 March 2016
  9. Wildlife of the Concho Valley by Terry Maxwell — Reviewed 16 December 2016
  10. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind — Reviewed 13 Feburary 2016

The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt was definitely my favorite of these. Wizard’s First Rule was by far the WORST book I read this year and it makes me mad every time I see it on my bookshelf. (Still debating whether I ought to take it to the used bookshop for credit or just trash it like the true piece of garbage it is.)

Women’s Classic Literature Event

Again, I wish I’d read more books that counted for this project — but again, something is better than nothing, right?

Introductory Post

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Reviewed 9 July 2016
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – Reviewed 2 July 2016
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell — Reviewed 19 June 2016
  4. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall — Reviewed 26 March 2016
  5. Middlemarch by George Eliot — Abandoned!
  6. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys — Reviewed 17 September 2016
  7. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — Reviewed 6 February 2016

It’s really hard to pick a favorite of these. All of the fiction books were wonderful in their own ways, so I’m going to take the easy way out and say that Jane Goodall’s science nonfiction book In the Shadow of Man might be my favorite.


A few other things also happened this year…

I gots me some capital-P Plans for the coming year, too — more on that tomorrow.


The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
by L. Frank Baum

December 23, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

★ ★ ★ ★

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum | 1902 | Bowen Merrill | Paperback $10

A magical Christmas story by the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus answers the enigmatic Christmas questions: Why does Santa travel via Reindeer? How does he fit through the chimney, and how does he deliver all those toys in one wintry night?

First published in 1902, the tale begins as a wood nymph discovers a baby abandoned in a forest. Raised among mythical forest creatures, the child learns to outwit evil as he grows towards adulthood and must discover how to re-enter the human world, which leaves him determined to share gifts and spread love to his fellow man.

If that summary sounds vaguely familiar, you may remember the rather weird Rankin-Bass stop motion animation TV movie by the same name — you know, Rankin-Bass, the same folks who did the more popular stop motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town Christmas specials you see on repeat around this time of year?

This is a simple story, if somewhat more… hm, pagan than typical Christmas stories, featuring plenty in the way of wood nymphs and fairies and such (not sure “pagan” is quite the word I’m looking for, but it’s close enough). I suppose it could be read as something of a religious allegory à la Narnia — the kind man who devotes his life to making the world a better place for children is blessed with supernatural assistance and a happy, everlasting life — but I’m honestly not sure whether younger readers would pick up on that.

Have you read this book or seen the animated movie version? What did you think of it?

If you’re a fan of L. Frank Baum, don’t forget that I’m hosting a read-along of his Oz series starting in January!


Links:


Publication information: Baum, L. Frank. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Indianapolis, IN: Bowen Merrill, 1902. Print.
Source: Used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
by Howard Pyle

December 22, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6

★ ★ ★ ★

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle | 1883, this ed. 1985 | Signet Classics | Paperback $3.99

The beloved adventures of Robin Hood come vividly to life in this wonderfully illustrated version by Howard Pyle. Deep in Sherwood Forest, the legendary Robin Hood – the brave, good-humored outlaw the whole world loves – proves himself the best in England with his bow.

This is probably Pyle’s most well-known work outside of his legacy that is the Brandywine School of illustration. Actually, this book includes nearly 50 examples of Pyle’s illustration style, either as full-page woodcut (or woodcut style) scenes or ornaments and frames. When I was first learning to draw I just loved copying the art out of this book.

Sure, the book was written in the 19th century and with an exaggerated approximation of 12th century language (lots of “whither hath that knave gone” and “take thou what thou wilt have” and that sort of thing), but it’s actually not a difficult read. The stories are engaging and mostly, well… merry!

This edition also includes an informative Afterward by Michael Patrick Hearn, which was well worth the extra pages for its explanations of the repeated anti-Catholic sentiments (Pyle was a Quaker) and distinct erasure of Robin’s romances in the older versions of his stories (Pyle thought his assumed audience, little boys, wouldn’t be interested).

This book is certainly a keeper, and one I’ll probably end up re-reading again in the future at least a couple more times.


Links:


Publication information: Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. New York: Signet Classics, 1985. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Book Jumper
by Mechthild Gläser

December 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser | January 2017 | Feiwel & Friends | Hardcover $17.99

Amy Lennox doesn’t know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother’s childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.

Amy’s grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House — but not in the usual way. It turns out that Amy is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside.

As thrilling as Amy’s new power is, it also brings danger: someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts — at whatever cost.

I’m a huge sucker for the Portal Books trope, where characters get to actually explore the stories that the rest of us plebes can only experience in print. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde and Sherry Thomas’s Elemental Trilogy are great examples of this. Obviously, The Book Jumper falls into this category as well.

(Plus the cover is SO ADORABLE.)

I liked this book, but I think maybe my hopes were a little too high? I figured that if it did so well in the German-language book market that they’ve translated it into English, it must be pretty awesome. And it is good, just not quite mind-blowing I guess. Although, I’m saying that from the perspective of someone who’s read a TON of teen-aimed portal fantasy, so… perhaps I’m just being a little bit curmudgeonly?

The concept is awesome and the writing is decently engaging, but the actual plot was a tiny bit predictable and the relationships were bordering on nonsensical.

Concept: Bookish girl is delighted to learn that she actually has the power to “jump” into stories. Mysterious things start happening in said stories + in the real world, so bookish girl teams up with bookish boy to figure it all out. Totally fun!

Writing: First person narrative, which I know is something that a lot of readers don’t really care for, but I didn’t find it too grating in this case.

Plot: Pretty easy to figure out what’s going on, which means it can be kinda frustrating to watch the characters flounder around until they get it, too. I was a little bit surprised about one revelation, though.

Relationships: WHY. The primary romance, which has the potential to be shippy material, feels like a trite, cliché page-filler. There’s another romance in this book that is simultaneously more genuine and yet slightly icky to think about, too. Just… the characters in general are kinda cheesey/boring, so the crazy plot has to do a lot of the work of keeping the reader’s attention… and when it’s a little too predictable, that’s not the most awesome possible combo, y’know?

Overall I think this is a fine book for a fantasy-hungry teen or YA reader, with the caveat that it’s just not going to be 2017’s earth-shattering breakout book.


Links:


Publication information: Gläser, Mechthild. The Book Jumper. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. EPUB.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wildlife of the Concho Valley
by Terry Maxwell

December 16, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wildlife of the Concho Valley by Terry C. Maxwell | January 2013 | Texas A&M University Press | Hardcover $30

The Concho Valley, named from the abundant mussel shells found in its principal river by seventeenth-century Spanish explorers, occupies a transitional position between the Chihuahuan Desert to the west and the Balcones Canyonlands to the east. As veteran field biologist and educator Terry C. Maxwell notes, the region has experienced wide-ranging changes in the makeup of its vertebrate populations, especially in the decades since farming and ranching began here in earnest, in the mid- to late 1800s.

This is a rather niche subject and I would otherwise not review such an interest-specific book here, but I started reading this one for Nonfiction November and I just want credit for that, dangit.

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with the author of this book. To be specific, he was one of my professors in college (one of the better ones for sure)… and my mother taught at that same school when I was growing up, so actually we’ve been acquainted since I was a little kid. This book wasn’t a freebie, though — we bought it, proudly and enthusiastically, and it was well worth the money.

Dr. Maxwell’s classes were certainly interesting. He was a good lecturer and an even better field trip guide, and his depth of knowledge combined with his talent for teaching shines through in this book. What’s more, several of the chalkboards in the biology department were decorated with his detailed, lifelike drawings of native animals — and, again, his talent for this particular art is evident in this book as well.

I hesitate to recommend Wildlife of the Concho Valley to just anyone… it is, after all, focused on a very local and subject-specific topic. But I do think that if you have any interest at all in the animal life of Central/West Texas, you’ll find it engaging, informative, and generally a pleasure to read.


Links:


Publication information: Maxwell, Terry Wildlife of the Concho Valley. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Backlist Love | Ol’ Blue Eyes

December 10, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 4

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection by Charles Pignone, Quincy Jones, and the Frank Sinatra Estate (Bullfinch, 2004)

Sinatra by Richard Havers (DK, 2004)

The Sinatra Treasures

The first-ever collection from the archives of the legendary Chairman of the Board, filled with never-before-seen photos, letters, mementos, and more.

What is a legend? A legend is a man who, more than 65 years after stepping on stage for the first time, is still larger than life. A man who changed the way we wear our hats. A man possessed not of a voice, but The Voice. Frank Sinatra is a legend.

Sinatra

From poverty to power, Hoboken to Hollywood, this story is the embodiment of the American Dream. For over 50 years Frank Sinatra was at the epicenter of American life – on the radio, in the movie theaters, on TV, and in newspapers and magazines. Includes over 800 photographs, some rare and unseen, capture each moment of the legend’s seven-decade career.

Why I liked them

I have a little weakness for 1940’s music in general, and Frankie in particular. (And Bing of course, but right now we’re talking about Frankie.) That man had a VOICE, right? I was going through kind of a Frankie phase when I met my now-husband in high school — yes, a Society of the Serpent teenager having a crush on a dude that was born like 20 years before her own grandfathers is totally normal* — and he actually bought these for me. So, I’m sort of doubly attached to them, both for the content and for the sweetheart gift status.

But that means nothing to y’all, I know, so let’s talk about the books themselves. They’re both pretty hefty and packed with images, rather more like coffee table books than like regular biographies. The Sinatra Treasures book in particular is great because it comes with a CD with some random recordings of Frankie doing radio talk shows and that sort of thing, which I realize might not sound that appealing to most people who only hear Frankie incidentally at the mall during the holiday season, but for a fan it’s pretty interesting.

*OK, maybe not, but a girl can’t help the way she feels and don’t you judge me.

Who I’d recommend them to

Frank Sinatra fans, obviously. Or fans of 1940’s music/culture in general. I know that’s probably not a huge subset of my particular blog’s peanut gallery, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Frankie lately what with all the Christmas music floating around on the airwaves right now, so this seemed like as good a time as any to talk about these books.

Links

The Sinatra Treasures

Sinatra

backlistlove_redux

The Once and Future King
by T. H. White

December 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 8

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Once and Future King by T.H. White | 1958 | Ace | Paperback $9.99

Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.

I imagine that most of y’all have heard of this book — or at least of its first part, which is often read as a stand-alone children’s book, The Sword in the Stone (yes, like the Disney movie) — or AT LEAST the legends of King Arthur and Camelot. Right? Because if not, you’re missing out on a HUGE piece of Western folklore / literary canon and you should get off the internet and go to a library to amend this situation right freakin’ now.

Although it looks at first glance like a typical kind of “classic” novel, I’d say it’s closer to something like The Lord of the Rings meets Discworld meets A Game of Thrones meets Narnia. (In fact, even though I originally had it classified as red-font “20th century literature/poetry” on my Classics Club list, I’ve switched it to green for SF/F.) I was actually convinced that T.H. White had been a part of the “Inklings” group because the writing/themes seem so in-tune with their work, but apparently he wasn’t (although he did correspond with C.S. Lewis to a limited extent).

The first section — the aforementioned The Sword in the Stone — is certainly the most lighthearted of the stories, leaning more heavily on kid-friendly British folk tales and general silliness than the latter sections. It’s a kind of bait and switch, though, because the stories grow rather more morbid and grown-up after Arthur pulls his sword from that stone. The second section begins with a bored sorceress torturing a cat in gruesome detail, which should give you some clue as to how things go on for the rest of the book. The author might as well have titled part 2 “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

The writing style remains consistent throughout the book, despite the abrupt shift in tone/content. The narrator fairly frequently “butts in” for little explanatory asides or gently snide remarks, which I think annoys some readers but I personally find it charming (at least in this case). The characters are mostly fully developed (or at least sketched with decent detail), with the obvious exceptions of the villainesses, who seemed to be hardly more than seductress-witch caricatures. There are certainly more interesting portrayals of Arthur’s sisters out there, though, so I’ll just leave this little quibble to whither away in the face of the book’s more significant virtues.

This was actually a re-read for me, though it’d been probably about a decade since I read it originally. It’s certainly a favorite of mine now!


Links:


Publication information: White, T.H. The once and future king. New York: Ace, 1958. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Movie Musicals Challenge –
Grease

December 8, 2016 Just for Fun, Movies 4

grease1

I re-watched Grease on Netflix recently for the Movie Musicals Challenge based on the AFI’s 25 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time list.

I love this movie. It’s quite silly and campy in some ways, but it’s also funny and smart and — obviously — packed with great musical numbers. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but if I absolutely had to narrow it down to ONE… it’d be “Beauty School Dropout” with Frankie Avalon (the scene where Frenchy contemplates her career/educational options after a disastrous dye job).

Of course, like many musicals on this list, Grease is based on a stage play. I vaguely remember seeing one of my cousins in a high school theater production of it ages ago — and I also vaguely remember that they got in a bit of trouble for not cutting out some of the raunchier lines! (This was conservative small town Texas, after all.)

Speaking of raunchier lines… Rizzo is one of my favorite characters, ever. I confess that I kind of hated her as a kid — she seemed too mean and slutty compared to the naive Sandy, almost like a villain. But there isn’t really a villain in this film, is there?

Oh, sure, there’s the guy from the other car-racing gang with the spikes on his wheels and the fancy-dancing girlfriend. But his rivalry with the T-Birds is secondary to the main storyline, just a convenient device to move the plot forward and create a little conflict to frame the more interesting problems the main characters are having: first love, first car, first job… and first failures. Rizzo experiences perhaps the most serious problem of all the characters — her unintended pregnancy — but this is too-neatly wrapped up in a throwaway line in the final number: “It was a false alarm!”

Anyway… I don’t really know where I was going with that line of thought, other than to say that I think Rizzo is an interesting-yet-underrated character.

Do you have a favorite character or song/dance number from this musical?

grease2