Monday, December 31, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 64 -- The Cloud of Unknowing

by anonymous

edited by Evelyn Underhill

Started: Dec. 28
Finished: Dec. 31

Notes: This is a 1922 edition of a 14th Century Christian work that focuses upon contemplation through prayer as the only real way to know God. I've been meaning to read this one for some time, especially as its writings have been compared to Buddhism, a rarity from Christianity.

Mini review: Okay, I admit, this was not an easy one to read, mainly because the writing is still in the style of 14th Century English. That being said, as I wrote above, this book is about the contemplation of God through prayer, and to be honest, the ideas presented aren't all that ancient but fit fairly well into the modern world. This contemplation is something akin to meditation, but there are subtle differences, no doubt because this is Christianity we're talking about. From a writer's perspective, the language here was most interesting, somewhat archaic, and some might find use of this style for fantasy fiction (not exactly, of course, for it would be a most difficult read for modern readers).

Friday, December 28, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 63 -- E-Book Formatting for Novelists

by K.C. May

Started: Dec. 28
Finished: Dec. 28

Notes: From time to time I like to check what other independent authors have suggested for formatting of e-books, just to see if I can learn something new. This particular e-book is more than a few years old, so it might be out of date, but perhaps there's still something to glean here. Besides, this one if from fellow fantasy author K.C. May, and I've been meaning to read something of hers for years (if you're reading this, K.C., I promise I've got some of your novels waiting for me on my Kindle -- there's just too many things to read! -- but I'll get to them, promise).

Mini review: Now that I've read it, I wouldn't say this one is outdated, but I never understand why nearly all authors focus upon coding with HTML and such for their novels when their are much simpler ways of formatting for e-books. Or, at least those simpler ways have worked for me and I've never had a single complaint from readers. But to each their own. That being said, K.C. does bring up some elements here which hadn't occurred to me of late, mostly related to design quality, and I'm thankful for that as it's given me something to think about.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 62 -- Crazy Town

edited by Jason M. Waltz

Started: Dec. 25
Finished: Dec. 27

Notes: I've had a few stories published by this editor over the years through his publishing house Rogue Blades Entertainment, so when I found out he had a new collection available, I had to give it a go, especially since it's supposed to be dark noir with a supernatural bent. Unfortunately I don't have a story in this one because I've been focusing on writing novels of late, but maybe I'll turn onto shorts again in the coming year once I've finished with the latest trilogy.

Mini review: Some might argue noir fiction and speculative fiction are an antithesis to one another, that it's practically impossible to combine the cynicism of noir with the attitudes of the speculative, but I must say this collection proves such notions wrong. Here you will find a solid mix of nearly all types of speculative fiction, from fantasy to dark fantasy to science fiction, a super hero tale, and perhaps a touch of horror here and there. All of that with noir sensibilities, and it works. As is usually the case with most anthologies, some stories are better than others, but I didn't find any out-and-out stinkers here, and a few stood out. My personal favorites were "Out of the Light" by Douglas Smith, "Fortune Teller" by David M. Donachie, and "The Lake" by Joel Thomas Blackstock Jr., with "All Monsters: A Gold Coast City Brief" by Matt Abraham coming in darn close as a favorite, though it's still an excellent tale. This collection was a bit of a stretch compared to Rogue Blades Entertainment's earlier publications, but I believe it not only works in and of itself, but it also shows a publishing house willing to grow and to try new things.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 61 -- Sandman Slim

by Richard Kadrey

Started: Dec. 20
Finished: Dec. 24

Notes: A killer dies, goes to hell to become a hitman down there, then finds his way back to Earth for ... for what? I don't know, but this sounds like one hell of a story. I've been meaning to get to this one for some while now, so glad I'm finally getting started since I've heard good things about this first novel in a series.

Mini review: Now THAT was a damn ride and a half! Seriously, if you like balls-to-the-wall action with demons and angels and Lucifer riding in the back seat, this is for you. Normally this isn't really my thing, but here it worked, with maybe a minor quibble or two. The writing is strong, the characters are interesting and often amazing, and the actions keeps jumping off the page right for your eyeballs. It's good. Very good. Best thing I've ever read? No, not even close, but it's by far the most entertaining read I've had in a while. Enlightening? No, you're not going to find a lot of deep thought here, but you will find guns and explosions and revenge and crazy, crazy, crazy. I recommend this one. I'm not telling more of what this one is about because you don't need it. The story will leap off the page at you from page one, so go find out all the hoopla for yourself.

A beer of the week special: What is cock ale?


Cock ale. It sounds funny. Even dirty. But it's not. At least not in the way your twisted mind is probably thinking.

Cock ale is actually ale, a type of beer brewed with malted barley and yeast and then fermented at relatively high temperatures (for fermentation, anyway), that is also fermented with poultry, often chicken.

Cock ale has a history going back at least 500 years, and some beer historians believe that history started in Scotland.

As mentioned, this beverage is often made with chicken, but sometimes duck or other poultry can be used. Also, fruits, nutmeg, clove, mace and sometimes other herbs are used in the fermentation process. The chicken and the herbs can also be soaked in wine for a day or longer to add a little zing to the flavor.

Strictly speaking, the general goal is to create a mincemeat of the poultry being used, but modern recipes often just rely on using shredded chicken. All that being said, you shouldn't just take shredded poultry and mix it in with beer you bought from the store. You'll just end up with a mess, and it'll taste nasty.

Proper cock ale is made during the actual beer-making process, during the fermentation. I'm not going to go into all the details of beer brewing because aficionados will already know and everybody else is not likely to care, but basically the poultry and other ingredients are placed into a bag and added to the fermenting beer on the second day of fermentation. Fermentation should take about a week longer than usual and the final product should be matured in the bottle for about a month before drinking.

Generally speaking, cock ales have a taste and texture akin to what are often called barley wines. Cock ales are usually darker or red, and usually have a fruity taste to them. But what can you expect if you add all that fruit? So, there you go. At its most basic, cock ale is ale that's been fermented with chicken. Now you know.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 60 -- Cut Me In

by Ed McBain

Started: Dec. 18
Finished: Dec. 20

Notes: I turn from a historical mystery novel to a more modern such work. I've been a big fan of Ed McBain for some while now, though I'm mostly experienced with his 87th Precinct novels. Here I hope to expand my McBain reading some. This particular novel is a republishing of one of McBain's works from the early 1950s, one of my favorite periods for McBain, and it comes from Hard Case Crime, a publishing house which has impressed me in my limited experience to it.

Mini review: Young McBain might have been when he wrote this novel, but it is now one of my favorites. A literary agent's partner is murdered while the contract for a major movie deal goes missing, then somebody else gets murdered, and somebody else. Was all this killing due to the movie deal, or is something else going on? I think I can honestly say, at least at this point in my life, Ed McBain is my favorite author. Too bad he's not around anymore to pen more of these awesome tales. And as an added bonus to this novel, there's a long-lost novelette added at the end, and it also was a very nice tale, featuring a character from on of McBain's other early novels. If you enjoy noir literature, do yourself a favor and hunt down this book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 59 -- The Pilgrim of Hate

by Ellis Peters

Started: Dec. 14
Finished: Dec. 18

Notes: I've been reading a fair amount of historical fiction of late, and I just read one of these Brother Cadfael mystery novels, so I thought I'd give another a go. This one happens to be from the British publisher of these books, so it'll be interesting to note if there are any differences from the U.S. versions I've read from this series.

Mini review: This one had some political intrigue in it, my first such experience in the Brother Cadfael novels, though that in no way diminished the writing here. However, I did felt the story dragged early on, though it did heat up a little before halfway through. Pilgrims arrive at Cadfael's abbey to commemorate the anniversary of a saint's relics coming there, and those within the pilgrims are not all innocents, some being outright scoundrels and other having pasts tied to big events happening elsewhere in England at the time. It all comes together in the end, as can be expected, and a pleasing and somewhat surprising end it was.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Beer of the week: Samuel Adams White Christmas

Beer score: 7.1

Company: Samuel Adams
ABV: 5.8
IBU: 8

I'm not a big fan of Christmas beers, usually ales, because I've never cared for nutmeg and cinnamon nor gingerbread, all the flavors associated with the holiday. However, this one won me over, which is a first for a Christmas beer.

Those nutmeg, cinnamon, and gingerbread flavors are barely there, though there is a strong citrus taste that's not overly heavy as to be annoyingly fruity. This wheat beer is a white ale, reminiscent of many Belgian styles, which makes it a light, crisp drink that should go well with lighter fare such as fish or salad, probably berries as well.

I'd like to reiterate a point about that citrus flavor. It's definitely there, but I don't want anyone reading this to go away thinking this tastes like an orange drink or something similar. The citrus flavor here is lighter than that, but still obviously present.

If you're like me and don't normally care for all those Christmas ales, or even many of the ales served for other holidays, I'll suggest giving this one a try. Also, if you like Belgian-style brews, add this one to your shopping list. All in all a solid beer; not necessarily a favorite, but I wouldn't turn one down and I could even see myself picking up a six pack at some point.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 58 -- A Morbid Taste for Bones

by Ellis Peters

Started: Dec. 11
Finished: Dec. 14

Notes: Keeping with my recent habit of reading historical fiction, I turn to this Medieval novel in which Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael solves mysteries. This isn't the first Cadfael novel I've read, but it's the first in a while, and I do seem to remember enjoying these. As an added bonus, this was the very first novel featuring Brother Cadfael, so at least I get to see how the series got started.

Mini review: A group of monks are tasked with bringing the relics (ie. bones) of a saint from a village to their monastery, but unfortunately the villagers are none too happy about this. Things go from bad to worse when one of village leaders is murdered. But fret not! Brother Cadfael, former soldier now a monk who specializes in herbology, is on the job. I must say, this one started slower than I liked, but by the mid-point things began to speed up a little. And I have to add the ending wasn't a simplistic, cookie-cutter one, but had several twists and turns which were not easy to foresee. All in all, not a bad book. Fans of mysteries should enjoy this one. Also, history fans should like this one because much of what happens here was true (not the murder and not Brother Cadfael, but all the general events and many of the personages involved). By the way, I absolutely love the title for this novel.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 57 -- The Vikings! #2: The Dark Return

by Neil Langholm

Started: Dec. 7
Finished: Dec. 10

Notes: Back in the 1970s, the publisher Pinnacle Books was the king of men's action and adventure, being known for a lot of big names in that area back then and a lot of different titles. The Vikings! was one of many series the publisher tried out, but in this case it didn't work for them as I believe there were only four novels in the series. Also, the author here was actually a house name under which several writers worked. I read a lot of Pinnacle's short action novels back in the 1980s, but this series evaded me, so now I'm trying it out.

Mini review: Not bad. If you're looking for action and adventure involving swords, you could do a lot worse. The writing here is fair at best, sometimes confusing, but it delivers where it counts. The plot? A group of Vikings who have landed in America must find their way back home, and once they do they discover things are not as they would have hoped. Vengeance ensues, and the ending is as unexpected as it is shocking, leaving room for the next novel in this series.

Beer of the week: Highland Brewing Oatmeal Porter

Beer score: 7.9

Company: Highland Brewing
ABV: 5.8
IBU: 35

This beer is a pleasant surprise for me. First, I've been disappointed with many of the North Carolina brews I've tried over the years, but this one from Asheville, NC, gets it right. Second, I'm not normally an oatmeal kind of guy when it comes to beer (but cookies is another matter). Third, Porters aren't usually one of my favorite styles of beer, but here all of it works quite nicely.

This one pours so dark I would almost think it's a stout, and there's nothing wrong with that. When poured, the foam at the top is present but not overly thick, and it comes with a deep roasted scent that reminds me of coffee and a little of chocolate. There's definitely a taste of smoky molasses in the drinking, and again a little of that chocolate quality. If you don't like beers with lots of carbonation, this one could be for you, though it's also not what I would call a thin beer, pouring strong enough without being weak. Not the strongest of porters, but again, I wouldn't call it overly weak, so just right, at least for me. Those who like stronger porters might want to look elsewhere, but this one worked for me even though I usually prefer stouts. Served cold or room temperature, I found this a more than serviceable drink fitting for many occasions, especially in the winter.

As a side note, I found this a perfect drink with chili while snowed in. While in North Carolina, of course.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Beer of the week: La Fin Du Monde

Beer score: 8.7

Company: Unibroue
ABV: 9.0
IBU: 19

Normally I'm not a big fan of Canadian beers, but this fine beverage from Quebec brewer Unibroue can give most beers in Europe a run for their money. This is a Belgian-style ale that's been triple fermented. Pours with a cloudy gold color and has a strong wheat and fruity smell. I'd be surprised if there's not been a touch of citrus and honey added to this drink. In the drinking there's just a little too much carbonation for my liking, almost like you're drinking champagne, but it's not too bad. The flavor starts off fruity for the first sip or two, but then a strong bitter and alcohol flavors kicks in. If you are a fan of Belgian-style brews, you are more than likely going to enjoy this one. I can't quite classify La Fin Du Monde as a favorite, but it's darn close, and I'd never turn one down.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 56 -- Eaters of the Dead

by Michael Crichton

Started: Dec. 6
Finished: Dec. 7

Notes: I rarely read a book more than once, but I'm making an exception here because I enjoyed this book the first time around, this is an illustrated edition, and I'm a fan of the movie version, The Thirteenth Warrior. Plus I've been reading historical fiction of late. This is a retelling of the Beowulf legend.

Mini review: This was an awesome read. A 10th Century Arab travels into the far north and falls into an adventure with what today we might call vikings. I realize that description makes this tale sound somewhat pulpish, but it's really not. There is good writing here and a solid story. Any reader of fiction should enjoy this tale, but I believe those with a love for Sword & Sorcery will especially love this one. This is one of those rare instances where literary fiction, historical fiction, and action and adventure meld together to form a perfect tale. Truly, if you've not read this, you need to. And if you can find the illustrated edition with artwork by Ian Miller, then you've found a true treasure.

Books read in 2018: No. 55 -- Creation

by Gore Vidal

Started: Nov. 8
Finished: Dec. 5

Notes: I've been reading a fair amount of historical literature of late, and I've been meaning to read a book by this author other than the handful of articles of his I read during his lifetime, so it was rather fortuitous when I discovered he had written a novel based in the ancient world, roughly 5th Century B.C. So, win-win.

Mini review: Though there are some major differences, this novel reminded me quite a bit of the book I read right before it, Baudolino by Umberto Eco, though this is a more serious work, not that Baudolino isn't a serious work, but it does have its elements of humor and myth which are almost completely present here. So what's the story for this novel? It's basically the life story of a half-Greek, half-Persian ambassador who goes on journeys to India and later to China. Here and there he rubs shoulders with some important people, and being the grandson of a famous religious figure and something of a philosopher himself, he has various talks with more famous religious figures, the discussions concerning the different belief systems with the occasional focus upon the creation of the world and of mankind (thus, the title). There's not a lot of action here as this is not that type of story, but those with interest in ancient history and religions and philosophies should find much here for them.