Thursday, April 18, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 28 -- Pawn of Prophecy: Book One of The Belgariad

by David Eddings

Started: April 10
Finished: April 18

Notes: I've strayed from fiction for the last couple of months and I've been feeling the need for it, so I turn to this fantasy series. By all rights I should have read at least some of Eddings' fantasy works when they first came out in the 1980s because I was reading lots of fantasy back then, but for some reason I never got around to it. Now I will.

Mini review: Not bad. Not great and not overly complex while sticking to more than a number of basic fantasy tropes, but still a fairly pleasant read. Obviously I'm not in love with this book, but it was interesting enough to want to keep me reading more since I've got the second and third books waiting in the wings. For a somewhat light fantasy read but one that's not so simplistic as to be insulting, I can suggest this novel.

Beer of the Week: RJ Rockers Patriot Pale

Beer score: 6.7

Company: RJ Rockers

ABV: 5.2
IBU: 35

RJ Rockers has been bringing quality brews to the Spartanburg, South Carolina, region since 1997, and this was one of their flagship beers. This American pale ale has a nice gold, cloudy look to it in a glass, and a slightly malty and citrus scent. Very wet, with a frothy head and a strong hoppy bitter flavor that goes down smooth. There's also a touch of caramel flavoring with hints of citrus. The taste is stronger than the scent, so don't be fooled and don't say I didn't warn you. This is not an overly complex beer, but it is quite a good one. This would make an excellent staple beer for any connoisseur's fridge. And in case you wanted to know, RJ Rockers is a microbrewery, and their brews are handcrafted.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 27 -- Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

by Brett Morgen with Richard Bienstock

Started: April 9
Finished: April 9

Notes: Having just finished reading a book about one tragic musician who died too young, Hank Williams, I turn to this book about the famed Nirvana frontman from my own generation. This book was an accompaniment to an HBO documentary that came out a few years ago.

Mini review: Nearly all this book is a collection of interviews with some of Kurt Cobain's friends and family. Much of it was nothing new to me, but it did point out how complex and tortured an individual Cobain was. The last few pages were the saddest with people recalling Cobain's suicide and the aftermath. There's not a lot of breadth here, so it will definitely help to know more than just the basics of Cobain's life, but there are some depths plumbed. Fans of Cobain will want to check this one out.

Beer of the Week: Abbott Ale

Beer score: 4.4

Company: Greene King

ABV: 5.0
IBU: Not reported

I first tried Abbott Ale a couple of decades ago and found it only slightly above mediocre, so recently I had the opportunity and tried it again. Unfortunately, I can't say it's much better this time around.

Oh, it's not an awful beer, not even a truly bad beer, but it didn't taste anything overly special or unique to me. It's a tad stronger in flavor and scent than your typical draught ale from Britain, and it has a nice head to it, so that much isn't bad. The coloring is a weaker-though-not-quite-light caramel and there's a touch of sweetness in the smell and the taste.

For better or worse, this beer seemed kind of watery to me, sort of thin. This could make it a fine beer for guzzling at the pub, but there's not enough here to make me want break it out at a beer tasting, nor would I really want to sit around and sip this at home on those nights when I'm in the mood for only a drink or two but a drink or two of something special.

Can you drink this? Sure. To repeat, it's not a bad beer. But any beer snob friends you might have will probably turn their noses up at this. But maybe not, especially if they're Americans who like to try something new.

Books read in 2019: No. 26 -- Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams

by Paul Hemphill

Started: April 6
Finished: April 9

Notes: Last summer I was going through Alabama while on a cross-country trip when my traveling companion pointed to the side of the highway where a sign proclaimed the Hank Williams Boyhood Home & Museum at the next exit. I've always been something of a minor fan of Hank's music, so we decided to stop for a few hours. We discovered the museum and the small town of Georgiana, Alabama, and were charmed by all we found there. Unfortunately we had missed a major annual music event in the town by just a couple of days. While touring the museum and seeing all it had to offer, I found the place offered no small number of books about the life of Hank Williams, so I decided upon this one in order to learn more about this legend of Country music though I'm fairly familiar with the basics of the man's life.

Mini review: A life that burned brightly and burnt out far too soon. Hank brought upon him most of his troubles, but during his time (and for his time) he was something of a musical genius, reaching the hearts of his fans even if he wasn't considered all that sophisticated in some circles. I'll add, too, that the author's writing here is quite solid, some of the best I've read from a biography, though I did wish he had expounded upon a few incidents and side characters in Hank's life.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 25 -- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Started: March 29
Finished: April 6

Notes: I've read some of Angelou's poetry over the years, but I've never read any of her prose, which is one reason I turned to this semi-autobiographical book of hers. Plus my late life was a big fan of Maya Angelou.

Mini review: This is a collection of events of Angelou's life from her earliest days in a small town in Arkansas until about the age of sixteen when she lived in San Francisco. Many of the events are of the every-day, but a few are more than that, including Angelou's rape at a young age and years later the birth of her son while she was a teenager. This is an eye-opening book about black life in America in the 1930s and 1940s, especially in the rural South. That being said, while the writing here is good, Angelou is naturally a poet and I felt this actually hurt her prose to a certain extent. It's difficult to describe what I mean, but I felt in many places she spent more time focusing upon the beauty of her words than in getting the experiences and the emotions across. Obviously this is my own bias, and I repeat that the writing is good, but I often felt the emotional impact would have been stronger with more straight-forward writing in some instances. At the same time, I admit Angelou might not have wanted to be so forthright in words with all the events of her life, both the tragic and the joyous, or that she preferred to write of such events from something of an emotional distance with a focus upon the beauty of her words. Or perhaps I've got it all wrong.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Beer of the Week: Red Dog

Beer score: 3.1

Company: MillerCoors

ABV: 4.8
IBU: Not reported

A beer typical of the American style prior to a few decades ago. It would possibly be popular at bowling alleys, dart tournaments, backyard barbecues, etc.

Has a slight corn scent and taste with the pale yellow color common to such beers. Has a nice foamy head but a bit too much carbonation for my liking.

There's nothing really special here, Red Dog tasting pretty much like a dozen other beers on the market, but it's been around a while so it must serve its place in the market. If you're something of a beer snob, you'll turn your nose up at this, but if you just want a cold one after mowing the yard or while watching the game, this beer could do the trick for you.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 24 -- Homosexuality in Renaissance England

by Alan Bray

Started: March 25
Finished: March 29

Notes: While perusing a used book store, I was drawn to this book by its the uncommon subject and its focus upon a relatively narrow region and period of time in history. Originally published in 1982, perhaps it will escape the more-modern political trappings of both left and right. Either way, I expect to find this one interesting and eye opening.

Mini review: This book leans toward the scholarly, but it's written straight enough for a broader audience to understand it. That being said, there are still historical and philosophical references the common reader is probably not going to understand without hitting wikipedia. The writing itself aside, this does prove to be an interesting look at mainly male homosexuality at one particular time and place in history. Apparently until the end of the Renaissance period, homosexuality in England (and possibly Europe and other parts of the world) was quite different than modern notions of homosexuality. Homosexual acts, as we would understand them, did indeed occur, as can be expected, but there really wasn't a homosexual culture or society as we would know it. Homosexual acts were almost a random thing, to some extent even accidental in a manner of speaking. There were no groups of homosexual men, at least none in numbers, who associated with one another, who met in public or private, at least not with their homosexuality being at the forefront of their thought and agendas. Establishments did not exist where homosexuals as individuals or groups could frequent clubs and taverns and the like which catered to them, relatively safe places where they could carouse and find friendship and yes, sex. However, such places did come into existence right after the Renaissance period. Also, the law and even violence visited upon homosexuals became much more strong at about the same time. Why? Perhaps because homosexual men had literally been hidden before but now had places to call their own. At least that's how this book seems to present things. But what brought about all these changes right after the Renaissance? The author here suggests it was more of a philosophical change that was affecting all of society. Names like Locke and Hume are brought up, and with no little reason. What was that change? Individualism.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 23 -- The Medieval Machine

by Jean Gimpel

Started: March 19
Finished: March 25

Notes: This book is an example of why I love used book stores so much, especially antiquarian book stores. It's highly unlikely I would have ever discovered this book in a regular book store. And that's part of the fun of used book stores, the discovery, finding an interest in a book you didn't even know existed. This book was originally published in 1976, so it's probably outdated concerning historical research, but it should still have some interesting historical information, at least interesting to me.

Mini review: This book was written quite well, the style of writing not boring at all despite the fact some might find the subject matter not overly exciting. I, however, did find a lot of enjoyment in the subject matter, and it opened my eyes more than before about how the supposed Dark Ages were really more of a time of scientific, economic, and even psychological growth than the period is generally credited. Here are covered such devices as water mills, wind mills, bridges and the like, but these are really just the basics. Military armaments aren't covered intensively, but they are brought up, especially cannons. The second half of this book leans away from the technological aspects of the period and turns its focus more towards the general attitudes and to some extent the economics of the times. Anyone who still believes the Middle Ages were a dull, dark period of stupidity and barbarity alone should read this book to catch a glimpse of a more complex time than is generally believed.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Beer of the week: Blue Eyed Blonde

Beer score: 7.8

Company: Black Creek Brewery

ABV: 5.6
IBU: Not reported

So recently I took a trip to a small town near me with the intent of trying out their brewery, a place that's only been there a year or two. To tell the truth, I wasn't expecting much. In my experience, the vast majority of little breweries and brewpubs throughout North Carolina are nothing exceptional; they're not necessarily bad, but they tend to be nothing great, one ale from a brewpub tasting pretty much like any other.

However, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the Blue Eyed Blonde from Black Creek Brewery in Roxboro, North Carolina.

It had a light, almost fluffy texture to it that was just right for my mood. Those who want something heavier and stronger will have plenty of options at Black Creek, so don't let the lightness of this one beer draw you away.

The taste was also light with more than a touch of citrus, though not enough to be annoying, really just the right amount. There was the barest hint of a little sourness reminiscent of an IPA, which is nothing to sneeze at, and the rest was a light honey swallow that would go great with many a meal or even just by itself. This reminded me more than a little of some of the lighter Belgian beers.

Now that I've tried one Black Creek beer, I'll have to head back for others. If their other beers are anywhere near as good as this one, then I should have something fun and tasty to look forward to.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 22 -- An Account of the Voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

from the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation

Started: March 18
Finished: March 19

Notes: This past Summer I visited San Diego for the first time, and being unfamiliar with any of the area's local history, while I was visiting the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center I decided I should check out a few pamphlets and books on that local history. This is one such book.

Mini review: This book is a bit basic, but it's not meant to be an exhaustive look at the events concerning the exploration of the coast of southern California and region. Though it's not overly long, barely half this book, there is an English translation of the actual account of Cabrillo's journey, though this account was most likely not written by Cabrillo himself, at least not in its entirety, but by one of the men aboard his sailing vessels. This book might open some eyes to history of the region in the 16th Century, as it did for me.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 21 -- Kahiki Supper Club

by David Meyers, Elise Meyers Walker, Jeff Chenault and Doug Motz

Started: March 15
Finished: March 18

Notes: I lived most of the '90s in Ohio and while there became acquainted with a fantastic restaurant in Columbus called "Kahiki." It was a Polynesian place that was visually wild. Walking into the restaurant, it was like entering a set for Gilligan's Island, but even wilder. The food was great and the drinks were not only tasty but humongous and colorful. I realize this might sound tacky to some, but I found it fun. Unfortunately, Kahiki is no longer with us. However, I was visiting Columbus a couple of years ago and visiting my favorite bookstore there when I found this book about the famed restaurant. Though I can't visit the Kahiki today, it lives on in literature, and I'm glad of it. The name "Kahiki" also lives on in frozen foods you might be able to find in your local grocery store.

Mini review: This was simply a fun read that took me down memory lane. The book is mainly a history of Kahiki's creation along with a few stories from over the decades of its existence, as well as some about the end of the restaurant and the beginnings of the Kahiki frozen food business which followed. There were also a few food and drink recipes from the restaurant. It's too bad this fantastic place no longer stands, but at least now I've got this book with its ton of stories and photos. A very pleasant read for me.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 20 -- An Experiment in Criticism

by C.S. Lewis

Started: March 14
Finished: March 15

Notes: This is C.S. Lewis' take on literary criticism, so it should be pretty good.

Mini review: I hate to say it, but this is my least favorite of all Lewis' writings I've read, which is not everything but is still quite a lot. His premise isn't bad. He begins by separating types of readers into the literary and what he calls the "unliterary," and this last term he does not mean in a negative fashion. Then he spends more than a hundred pages boring me with various thoughts on music and poetry and other forms of art, sort of commenting upon how all this is similar but also not similar to literature. Finally he gets down to his real premise and it's a long, slow, boring, pedantic mess that really tells the reader nothing. Only in the epilogue does he finally spout some kind of theory about literature, and it's basically that we transcend ourselves by experiencing the thoughts and emotions and lives of others. Not a bad premise, but he could have said it in a few paragraphs instead of rambling on forever and ever. Glad I didn't read this one earlier or it might have turned me off Lewis. I'll read more of his works, but I'll be more wary from now on.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 19 -- Why I am Not a Christian

by Bertrand Russell

Started: March 13
Finished: March 14

Notes: Thought I'd see what famed liberal philosopher Bertrand Russell had to say about religion, Christianity specifically. Published in 1927.

Mini review: It turns out "Why I Am Not a Christian" is only a small part of this book, the rest being made up of lectures and writings from Russell, all pertaining to religion and his thoughts on the matter. "Why I Am Not a Christian" was indeed originally published in 1927, but the rest of this book dates from 1903 to about 1961 as far as I can tell. In fairness to Russell, he was writing during an earlier time and philosophy and theology have grown since then, but I must say I found most of his argument fairly weak, at least by modern standards. Most of his issues with religion in general and Christianity in particular were based off personal feelings about the lack of morals in people who are religious and/or Christian. I'm sure many an atheist or agnostic feels that way today, but I'd argue it's not a logical reason to disavow religion especially considering Christianity takes such things into account. I'm not opposed to strong arguments against religion, but they have to be strong in the first place. Also, Russell is still under the liberal notion that education alone can solve all the world's problems, and personally I believe the modern world has shown this not to be the case, especially as no small number of supposedly educated people have proven it otherwise.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 18 -- The Purpose Driven Life

by Rick Warren

Started: March 5
Finished: March 13

Notes: I go to a lot of used book stores and check out a lot of Little Free Libraries, and in those locales I often find this book, sometimes several of them, which tells me two things, that a lot of people have read this book but that many of them didn't think the book worth keeping. Will it help me with my own drive in life? I don't know, but I suppose I'll find out. I'm not normally into what I think of as self-help/feel-good religious books, but I've been gifted this one twice now, so I'll give it a try. Another funny thing, when I opened this book, I found a rather extensive outline of it handwritten on a sheet of paper inside.

Mini review: I was disappointed by this one. For one thing, I had hope for specifics on how to discover or kindle your natural talents (in this case for God), but there was none of that. Instead, you are handed five purposes for life, all of which are basic Christian beliefs, so I felt there was nothing new here whatsoever. That being said, those looking to boost their faith might find this book of use, but it was not for me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Beer of the Week: Saison Dupont

Beer score: 7.9

Company: Brasserie Dupont

ABV: 6.5
IBU: 30

This beer from Belgium almost always draws high marks on various brew review websites, and while I give it fairly high marks myself, I didn't feel it was unique. Don't get me wrong, this is a solid beer. Your Budweiser friends will be at a loss if they try a Saison Dupont, but the flavor and texture here was nothing unexpected and nothing all that complex or unusual. If you like a traditional Belgian ale, you can't get more traditional or normal than this. On the plus side, several people have told me this beer has a skunky odor to it (which is common among beers in green bottles), but I have to say I did not experience any of that. Very earthy overtones without being thick on the tongue, with early hints of fruitiness that die away swiftly to be replaced by a cool bitterness. Has a nice head. This is a bottle-fermented brew and a top-fermented brew. By the way, a "saison" traditionally is a beer somewhat similar to a pale ale but with a low-alcohol level; historically this beer was brewed and fermented in farmhouses in Belgium and possibly some parts of France and served to farm workers.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Beer of the Week: Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55

Beer score: 8.5

Company: Brooklyn Brewery

ABV: 5.0
IBU: 24

This beer has a slightly dark, almost burnt blonde color to it in the glass, and a perfect quality beer scent. The Scottish Maris Otter malt brings a solid, almost cake-like sweetness, but it’s a soft sweetness, not overpowering but obviously there. The bitterness is strong at first taste, then fades away a little but returns on the way down. This is one of the most well-balanced beers I’ve tasted, with a perfect mix of hops and malt, and one of the better pale ales from the U.S. The name of this brew comes from the 1955 World Series when the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the Yankees. Also, I've had a number of Brooklyn Brewery beers over the years and I can't ever remember having a bad one, so check them out.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 17 -- The Case for Christ

by Lee Strobel

Started: Feb. 28
Finished: March 4

Notes: Of my Christian readings, the apologists are by far my favorites, so it's a natural for me to turn to the author who is arguably the best known of the modern apologists. Strobel was apparently a journalist who initially set out to do an investigation to disprove Christianity when researching this book, but instead he became a believer.

Mini review: Nearly all of this book is a collection of interviews done by the author with various professionals in philosophy, psychology, history, theology, etc., all of those experts being Christian, which in a way harms the authors approach but is to some extent understandable considering he had apparently done other research with non-believing sources and the main focus of this book is as the title suggests, The Case for Christ. Strobel's writing is strong enough, but I felt his journalistic approach a little disingenuous, and though I understand he had become a Christian by the time he wrote this book, I felt he went a little overboard in trying to convince the reader he had been a skeptic and something of an atheist before logically exploring Christianity. Much of the information provided here, the logic put forth for believing in the Resurrection and that Jesus was the Son of God, was not new to me, but I did appreciate the final chapter in which Strobel outlined his own becoming a Christian because his approach has been somewhat similar to my own over the years. However, when it comes down to it, Christian belief truly is a matter of faith, of having faith, of making that leap of faith, and while the information presented here might sway some, it also isn't likely to convince those who are determined against it and who can come up with their own counterarguments however well thought out or not they might be.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 16 -- Let Us Reason Together!

by Leroy Cannady

Started: Feb. 25
Finished: Feb. 27

Notes: I had the pleasure to attend a dinner last year in which this author was the guest speaker. Naturally, I purchased his book afterwards. This book is his life story about rising above his struggles to become a solid Christian and a professional man after having witnessed the death of his father at a young age and having been caught up in heavy drug use and the life that went with it.

Mini review: Boy, did this guy have some rough early years, and he dished out nearly as much pain as he received. Eventually he did get his act together, but unfortunately only after several divorces and the ruination of others' lives. However, his troubles didn't fully end there as he became a widower and continued to have financial lows along with the highs. In the end, he became a missionary to Sri Lanka, taking his four kids with him, and in that country he married again though political troubles reared their head to cause more problems. All in all, some people might not be able to relate to this autobiography, but some will, at least those open to a more conservative brand of Christianity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Beer of the Week: White Street Kolsch

Beer score: 5.9

Company: White Street Brewing Co.

ABV: 5.2
IBU: 23

Coming to us from the White Street Brewing folks just out of Wake Forest, NC, this brew pours with a nice white, frothy head and appears a sturdy gold color in a glass. Very crisp, very clean, but while this is a solid beer, I'm not sure it was for me. For one thing, the bitterness that hits the tongue right away was a bit too strong for my liking, though there is a light pleasant sweetness on the way down. Oddly enough, after that initial burst of flavor, the taste kind of fluttered away as I swallowed. The scent and taste remind me of wheat, something in a cracker variety, but there are also the barest hints of citrus and perhaps other fruits.

Should you try this? Yes, definitely. It's a quality beer. It simply wasn't my thing. Others might find it more to their liking. Besides, despite my relatively low beer score above, I don't dislike this beer; it's simply not a favorite, though I wouldn't turn one down if handed to me.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 15 -- The Book of Qualities

by J. Ruth Gendler

Started: Feb. 24
Finished: Feb. 25

Notes: This is one of my girlfriend's favorite books and there are a couple of copies laying around my place, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Review: My girlfriend laughed at me when she saw I was reading this book, telling me I would probably call it "artsy fartsy." There might be a little truth to that, but I also have to say there's a little more to this book than that. Yes, it's the kind of book that is generally intended to make people feel better about their life, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. But the main potential I saw here was for beginning writers. Basically, this book is a collection of several score vignettes humanizing various emotions and trials of humanity. This might sound trite to some, might sound awesome to others, but the benefit I found here for those starting to write is that it provides excellent examples of how to use metaphors and allegory, and it shows one way to write from the heart without having to get all flowery, while remaining relatively down to earth.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 14 -- A Brief History of Time

by Stephen W. Hawking

Started: Feb. 20
Finished: Feb. 24

Notes: I've been reading so much science fiction of late, I thought I'd dip into some actual science, an area in which I've not read nearly enough.

Mini review: This was written for the laymen, which proves how stupid I am because I almost immediately found much of it over my head. Oh, I can understand well enough the material related to the universe at large, but it's the other end, what one might call the micro-world, which I simply can't comprehend. I can get things down to atoms and electrons and protons, but once quarks come up, I'm lost and can't wrap my head around it. Still, this was a solid book with solid writing, and after doing some research online, was pleased to discover this book still stands up pretty well today more than 30 years after it was published. Obviously there have been some scientific breakthroughs since then, but the basics of this book is still fairly strong. Also, I'd like to add that I was fortunate enough to pick up a first edition of this book; I know it was a first edition because of the introduction by Carl Sagan, which was apparently pulled in later editions of the book.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 13 -- Little Fuzzy

by H. Beam Piper

Started: Feb. 19
Finished: Feb. 20

Notes: I used to own a paperback copy of this novel years and years ago, but for the life of me I can't remember reading it, so I'm hoping to correct that now. Or maybe I did read it and my memory is off. Either way, here goes.

Mini review: Not a bad novel, and no, I don't believe I've read it before. Basically a frontiersman of sorts discovers what seems to be an intelligent race, setting up the latter part of the novel which is pretty much a courtroom drama focusing upon a pair of murder cases and the future of this cute little intelligent race. Decently written with some points made about psychology, but didn't draw my interest enough for me to read the sequels, some written by Piper himself and others by different authors after his death.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Beer of the Week: Fiedlers Pils Im Stein

Beer score: 8.0

Company: Privatbrauerei Fiedler

ABV: 5.0
IBU: Not listed

Usually I find German beers overrated compared to the reputation they often have, but I'll admit there are some good ones out there. When it comes to non-U.S. beers, generally I prefer Belgian or British. However, this beer is an exception. It's very smooth and clean with a vaguely fruity texture hanging in the background. One of the better pilseners. Good cold or at room temperature. The brown earthenware jug this stuff comes in is a keeper. This beer is brewed in Koblenz, Germany, and is not always easy to find in the U.S.

Books read in 2019: No. 12 -- The End of All Songs: The Third Volume of The Dancers at the End of Time

by Michael Moorcock

Started: Feb. 14
Finished: Feb. 19

Notes: Having recently read the first two books in this trilogy, I thought I should go ahead and wind things down with this third book. I'd also like to add that if you should read these and are a fan of them, The Dancers at the End of Time series does not end with this trilogy but continues in other novels and short stories, so it might be worth your while to look them up.

Mini review: As wild and "out there" as were the first two novels in this trilogy, this one tops them. And while I've commented the first two novels were similar to one another in structure and theme, this one stretches those boundaries quite a bit, going for an unusual structure in which what seems to be the climax to the tale comes near the middle of the book while the true climax is more of an emotional one between the two main characters and comes nearer the end. If you're looking for some fantastical literature which is truly different, I can highly suggest these novels, especially if you have a penchant for older fantasy and science fiction works. Also, I'd like to add, I've mentioned in another review of one of the novels in this trilogy that I found some of the material familiar, and it dawned on me why: because I've read much of Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone works and in some shorter works Elric actually travels to the End of Time, the main setting for this trilogy. So that's one mystery solved.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 11 -- The Hollow Lands: The Second Volume of The Dancers at the End of Time

by Michael Moorcock

Started: Feb. 10
Finished: Feb. 14

Notes: I just read the first novel in this trilogy, so now I turn to the second. I'd like to add, Moorcock isn't necessarily one of my favorite authors though I have read a fair bit of his work. From what I can tell from his fiction and non-fiction, he and I would not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I do find him a pretty decent writer and I have to admit that even though I might not agree with his viewpoint, there is no denying he is thought provoking. So I'll keep reading him.

Mini review: This book very much follows similar themes and a similar outline to the first in this trilogy, at least until the end. Roughly the first half of the book is full of characters and scenery which are quite vacuous, even flippant at times, but then the plot thickens and the latter portions of the book are more traditional. That being said, the ending here is quite a bit different than the first novel, eventually leading to something of a cliffhanger. While the first halves of these novels have not thrilled me, once the story has truly gotten going, I've been quite pleased and interested, so I'll definitely move on to the third book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Beer of the Week: St. Cloud Belgian White

Beer score: 2.2

Company: World Brews

ABV: 5.4
IBU: 12

Has a light, dirty straw color as it comes out of the bottle and hits the glass. The smell is kind of noxious, and the taste doesn't improve it any. There's some citrus accents in the smell, just a little, and that is stronger in the flavor once you sip. There's a little bit of a wheat taste here, but that's overpowered by a sour bitterness that quickly explodes any potential for this beer to be good. Honestly, this is without a doubt the worst beer with the words "Belgian White" on its label that I've ever had.

Apparently this beer is brewed only for sale at Whole Foods, but I would've thought the folks at Whole Foods would have known better considering their clientele and the drinks they generally have to offer. Whole Foods, you can do better, and your customers deserve better.

On the plus side, this beer is relatively cheap compared to the other Belgian Whites available, but since it's so bad and has so little in common with other Belgian Whites, I can't say it's a bargain.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 10 -- An Alien Heat: The First Volume of The Dancers at the End of Time

by Michael Moorcock

Started: Feb. 7
Finished: Feb. 10

Notes: I had not necessarily planned on reading this novel at this time because it is the first in a trilogy and I've only had the first two books. However, I recently purchased that third novel, so now I have the whole trilogy and feel I can get on with it. Though I've done so a few times, I don't normally like to split up my reading of a series as sometimes my memory isn't all that great and I have a difficult time remembering what's happened in this past. Now I won't have worry about that. Plus, I've been on a sci-fi kick of late, so why not read this one?

Mini review: Far, far in the future, at least a million years, seemingly only a handful of humans now remain on the Earth but they have the powers of gods with the abilities to do just about anything, create just about anything. Life for these near immortals has become one big joke in which they do little more than create fantastical amusements for one another. In one way of looking at it, life has no meaning for them, at least not any serious meaning. However, there is little sadness and no pain. Also, apparently the end of the universe is looming in a thousand years or so. The first half of this book is frustrating in there seems to be no reason for anything to happen, to reason to care as nothing can truly harm the characters, but then ... well, I'll just say another character is involved, situations change, and the last portion of the book is quite intriguing with a character who seemed incapable of change going through not exactly a change but at least a period of thought with potential for change. Also, interesting enough, I believe Moorcock brings a time machine from his novel Behold the Man into this book, at least for a brief appearance, as if he has not done so, then my memory of the time machine from that book must be incorrect. Also, though I'm sure I've not read An Alien Heat before now, much of it seemed familiar, and the only possibility I can come up with is that this particular novel draws much from Moorcock's Eternal Champion books. Also, there are quite a few similarities between the world of this novel and one futuristic setting in Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic, so maybe that's why much here seems familiar, though The Books of Magic came a couple of decades after An Alien Heat, so if anything, I would think Gaiman was influenced by Moorcock and not the other way around.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 9 -- A Very Private Life

by Michael Frayn

Started: Feb. 6
Finished: Feb. 7

Notes: I wouldn't call this the most famous of sci-fi novels, but its title is one I recognize. Since I've been on a sci-fi binge of late, thought I'd give it a go.

Mini review: Decently written in an odd style that mixes together present and future tenses, this tells the story of a young woman who is brought up within the sheltered confines of an inner world, a house she calls it though it seems to be more than that. Rebelling against her parents and her brother and falling in love through an accidental electronic (sort of) communication with an unknown individual, the young woman flees her world of safety for the outside world, a world which she did not know existed and which she soon discovers offers plenty of pain and uncertainty, and a world for which she is woefully unprepared but manages to survive through by the kindness of some and her own dumb luck. To tell more would do a reader a disservice, so I'll stop there. While I won't claim this as a classic of science fiction, it is more thoughtful than a lot of modern works in the genre, and I would say it borders on being a classic and might have been if it had been written better. Or at least that's my opinion. Read it for yourself and make up your own mind. It's a quick read and not a difficult one, though it is a bit confusing in some few places, mainly because some of the characters don't speak English and the author doesn't explain what is being said (then again, perhaps another reader would recognize the languages as they seemed to be from the real world -- one I believe was French).

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 8 -- The Fiend

from Playboy

Started: Feb. 3
Finished: Feb. 5

Notes: Many today don't seem to realize that once upon a time, of all publishers, Playboy was a major player in short fiction. At one time the magazine even paid as much as $5,000 for short fiction, and $5,000 was worth a lot more than (several decades back) than it is today. Also, back in the 1970s, Playboy published a number of science fiction books, mostly anthology collections, some of which are still sought today by collectors who are willing to pay decent money. This is one such collection, though I'm not sure this particular one has much monetary value today. There are 15 science fiction short stories here and the names of the authors should be familiar to many, names such as Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, Rober Bloch, just to name a few. Sadly, the unusual cover art was illustrated by the late Roger Hane, famed for the covers of the Collier-Macmillan editions of The Chronicles of Narnia paperbacks (you'd know them if you saw them), and who was murdered far too young at the age of 36 by a bunch of youths stealing a bicycle he was riding.

Mini review: As might be expected from Playboy, this collection focuses almost entirely upon stories related to sexual matters, though they are still all science fiction. There are some quite good stories here. In my opinion, I'd say roughly 75 percent of these tales are awesome, and the rest are written well but weren't really my thing. All in all, a good read with some solid writing.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Beer of the Week: Dale's Pale Ale

Beer score: 5.7

Company: Oskar Blues Brewery

ABV: 6.5
IBU: 65

I rarely trust a beer in a can. It's not that beer from a can is always bad, but that I've always felt when tasting beers that I get a better representation of the taste when poured from a bottle into a clear glass. Dale's Pale Ale doesn't come in a bottle, though, and it's been quite popular the last decade or thereabouts, so I decided to give it a go anyway even though I can't get it in a bottle.

I wasn't disappointed. Yes, there's a pretty good beer behind this can from a Colorado brewery.

It had a nice foam head when I poured, perhaps a little more than I prefer but nothing awful, plus that foam tasted pretty good. Appeared somewhat cloudy in the glass, but that's not a bad thing, with a slightly dark brown in color.

There's plenty of strength in the flavoring, and those who don't like bitter ales might not care for this one, though I have had ales with even more bitterness to them. There's a bit of a caramel hops tinge to the tasting, and that's not bad at all. There might be the barest hint of a citrus texture in the aftertaste, but that also might have been my brain fooling me.

All in all a good solid beer but one with some class, one of the few beers that is appropriate for the backyard barbecue and a beer tasting at an art gallery. Really, it crosses the borders between the various worlds of beer. Not the best beer in the world, but a pretty good 'un, and far, far from the worst.

Give it a try.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 7 -- The Long Winter

by John Christopher

Started: Jan. 31
Finished: Feb. 3

Notes: I've never read this British author before, so I'm giving him a chance, especially as I've been on something of a science fiction run of late in my reading. This one from 1962 is described on the cover as "science-fiction fantasy" but I know prior to about 1980 or so the two genres were usually categorized together, so we'll see what comes from this one.

Mini review: Holy climate change, Batman, but this was one prophetic novel! A new ice age sweeps down to all but destroy North America and northern Europe, forcing the vast majority of Europeans to flee to Africa where they ultimately become subservient to the locals. Then an expedition from Nigeria is sent forth into Britain. During all of this, the main characters are involved in something of a love triangle which includes betrayals, adultery, etc. It took about 40 pages for me to get into this one, but I was hooked by then. Overall, I enjoyed the book, though the ending did leave a bad taste in my mouth with the main character ... I'll say no more in case you should read this one. Also, after having read C.S. Lewis' science fiction trilogy recently, earlier British science fiction had a quaintness to it that's sometimes downright silly by modern standards; I mean, major problems loom and the characters are all sitting out in drawing rooms while sipping tea and politely discussing the end of the world and the break-down of one's marriage. Seems unbelievable today, but perhaps it seemed logical back in the day to British readers. Still, a pretty good book, this one.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 6 -- Dandelion Wine

by Ray Bradbury

Started: Jan. 25
Finished: Jan. 31

Notes: I have a mixed relationship with Bradbury's writing. While his Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my all-time favorite novels and I enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, I was less than impressed by The Martian Chronicles. So I'm trying him out again. However, though he was famed for his science fiction and speculative novels, Dandelion Wine is apparently more of a literary work, a fictional memoir of a boy back in the 1920s.

Mini review: The writing here is quite good, but fans of Bradbury's science fiction might be disappointed. It's not really a novel, but more of a collection of short stories and vignettes based around a pair of brothers in the summer of 1928, though the main character does learn and grow throughout. This is quaint, potentially overly self-indulgent daydreaming about youth. There's nothing wrong with that if that is what one seeks in their fiction or at least occasionally in one's fiction. I'll repeat that the writing is good, perhaps some of Bradbury's best, but it wasn't really what I was in the mood for, and because of that I try not to judge it too harshly.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Beer of the Week: Sierra Nevada Sidecar Orange IPA

Beer score: 7.7

Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

ABV: 6.8
IBU: 35

I'm not normally a big fan of the IPA (India Pale Ale), mainly because such beers often have for me a sourness or even skunkiness in the smell and even the taste, but I decided to give this brew a try since I'm a sucker for orange flavoring and because I've known the Sierra Nevada folks to put out some pretty good drinks. I wasn't disappointed.

This one is lacking the usual sourness I experience with IPAs, but it still has a strong bitterness that's reminiscent of orange peel. There is a citrus texture to the scent of this one, but to be honest, I couldn't taste it at all other than perhaps in the bitterness, so for those of you who don't care for citrus beers, you might want to try this one. However, others have told me they smelled and tasted a lot of orange here, so maybe it was just me or the lone bottle I tried was off a little. The bottle does say this drink was brewed with "orange peel," if that helps you any.

As for the pouring, there was barely any carbonation here, and the drink came out in a fine but strong yellow reminiscent of dark gold. I experienced very little foam, but then I poured slowly and had the glass tilted somewhat; I've heard others say this one foams up well, but that wasn't my experience for better or worse.

Can I recommend it? Yep, I can. I've yet to have a bad beer from Sierra Nevada. Sure, some of their beers aren't exactly to my taste, but that's not because they're bad beers but because I have my own likes and dislikes. I can honestly suggest giving any of the Sierra Nevada brews a try, and if you're into orange flavoring the way I am, you definitely want to try this particular one.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 5 -- Plague Ship

by Andre Norton

Started: Jan. 22
Finished: Jan. 24

Notes: Norton is among a handful of authors of whom I've meant to read more, so I turn to this sci-fi novel originally published in 1956.

Mini review: This was just a fun little novel. A group of space traders get to work trading on an alien planet, but when they return to space they discover an illness is hitting the crew. Then they become outlaws wanted by the equivalent of the space police. And they have to go to Earth to not only avoid the law, but to find a way to take care of this illness. There's a touch of silliness to the whole tale, but not overly so. I have to say I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more such tales as Norton apparently penned other novels about this starship crew.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 4 -- Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut

Started: Jan. 20
Finished: Jan. 22

Notes: I've only read one other Vonnegut novel, Slaughterhouse Five, and that was so long ago I remember nothing about it other than Vonnegut seemed a pretty good writer. So, to see if that's true, I'll now try one of his other works.

Mini review:This was definitely a strange one, with more than a touch of the absurd. A writer sets out to pen a book about one of the creators of the atomic bomb and ends up traveling to an island nation where ... okay, I can't really say more without giving away too much of the plot. I'll simply say this one is ultimately apocalyptic fiction and that fans of the absurd might enjoy it. For me the absurdism seemed forced, but I often feel that way about such fiction. Here it even seemed fatalistic, and I mean the word "fatalistic" in its most negative form, not simply that fate becomes involved but that all is futile. To me it seemed an almost (though not quite) nihilistic tale, and I tend to not care for such. The writing here is excellent and the characters interesting and the plot well worked out, but the ultimate tone and themes didn't do much for me. I guess despite my being an old curmudgeon, I still like to see, if not a happy ending, at least one with a hint of hope. If the story is one in which every dies at the end (Hamlet, The Wild Bunch, etc.), I at least prefer there to be some meaning behind it, and here I felt that meaning could be summed up in one word, "futility." And I don't subscribe that that. Still, a good read, just not exactly my thing.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Beer of the Week: New Belgium Trippel

Beer score: 6.8

Company: New Belgium Brewing

ABV: 8.5
IBU: 43

In a clear glass this Colorado beer had a light brown look to in a little stronger than gold, perhaps a brass or even bronze color. The head held a little fizz but was not overly large, while the texture had pretty much the same feeling. Has a fairly strong malty smell to it that's quite nice.

The flavor, though, that's what you want to know about. There's a very slight sourness here reminiscent of IPA's but, I repeat, it's very slight, so don't be put off by that if you're not an IPA lover. The taste is somewhat strong, but not up to porter or stout levels. As for that taste, there's a lot going on here. There are hints of fruitiness but not sweetness with perhaps some clove, and I'd swear there's a touch of coriander. This beer tends towards the bitter side, but not strongly so, not enough to turn off the taster.

This is possibly the most complex of beers put out by the New Belgium folks, a company known for pretty good beers but not extravagant ones. If they keep making products such as this, they'll have a regular beer drinker in me.

And yes, I can recommend this one.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 3 -- That Hideous Strength

by C.S. Lewis

Started: Jan. 10
Finished: Jan. 20

Notes: As I've just finished the first two books of this trilogy, I thought I'd go ahead and finish the series of with this third book.

Mini review: This novel was quite a bit different than the other two in this series, taking place on Earth instead of other planets and the main character from the first two novels is her in a secondary but important role. The writing won't be for everyone, especially most modern readers, as it can be a bit dense at time when focusing upon different characters' inner thoughts, but the plot is decent enough, almost more like modern horror than science fiction or fantasy, and in truth this novel (and the others in the trilogy) are more fantasy than true science fiction, also with a touch of Christian fiction, as can be expected from C.S. Lewis. The ending is a big strange, at least to my liking, and is something of an anti-climax in my opinion, but it also seems to fit in its own, odd way. Glad I read it, but also glad to be finished with it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Beer of the Week: Heineken

Beer score: 4.3

Company: Heineken

ABV: 5.0
IBU: 23

While many a fan of craft brews and such will knock Heineken, personally I won't say it's an awful beer. It's not a favorite, and it's not great, but there are plenty of beers out there. Basically, this is a common lager made for the American market or for those who like lighter, crisper beers. As I see it, this is a beer for Budweiser drinkers who want to try something a little different, something they might think of as a little fancy. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not really my thing, and as for "fancy," I wouldn't really call Heineken that.

That being said, this beer from Holland is fairly weak and has a little fizz and some wet. Has a faint golden color to it, but you won't see that if you're drinking it out of the green bottle (which, in my experience, tends to give beers a vaguely skunky smell). Nothing special, but not awful. Frankly, for the price there are a lot better beers out there.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 2 -- Perelandra

by C.S. Lewis

Started: Jan. 4
Finished: Jan. 9

Notes: I just finished the first book in Lewis' science fiction trilogy, and though I didn't care much for it, I thought I'd give the second book a try.

Mini review: Thank goodness this novel is much better than the first in this trilogy for I'd considered giving it up. Here the hero of the first book finds himself on another planet (the Perelandra of the title) in which something akin to the Biblical events of the Garden of Eden is taking place though in a different, alien manner. What to do when the equivalent of the serpent shows itself? Anyway, there is much Christian allusion here, and some out-and-out Christian reflection, as could be expected from Lewis, with many philosophical underpinnings. Originally published in 1943, this one is really more fantasy than science fiction, but to be fair, prior to about 1975 or so the two genres were generally lumped together and not so separate.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Beer of the week: Bard's Original Sorghum Malt Beer

Beer score: 6.6

Company: Bard's Beer Company

ABV: 4.6
IBU: 20.5

More and more people are turning to gluten-free products nowadays, so it would seem a natural that eventually there would be a gluten-free beer. But a beer that doesn't include wheat, rye, oats or barley? Yes, it exists in this beverage, Bard's Original Sorghum Malt Beer, which is brewed with 100 percent malted sorghum and is of this writing the only beer to be brewed with 100 percent malted sorghum. Basically, this drink from Utica, New York, is a beer made from sourghum. It also happened to be the first gluten-free beer.

But you want to know how this stuff tastes, right? Well, first off, it's style is that of an American lager, just to give you a feel for it. When you pour it into a glass it gives off kind of a sweet burnt sorghum smell that borders on being heavy. The coloring is a light reddish, looking somewhat like a slightly darker version of premium "red" beers. Very wet, almost watery, quite smooth, has a decent head that didn't grow overly large. It tastes stronger than it smells, starting off with that slightly sweet but burnt, almost maple texture that quickly grows into a sturdy bitterness. There's a hint of spices, almost like one of this winter holiday brews.

I can't say this is something I will drink on a regular basis, but it was worth trying, and I'd definitely recommend it to those who want to drink beer but have to stick with gluten-free foods and drinks.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 1 -- Out of the Silent Planet

by C.S. Lewis

Started: Jan. 1
Finished: Jan. 4

Notes: I've read quite a bit of Lewis' work, but I've never delved into his science fiction, and since a friend gave me this trilogy a while back, I thought I should at least check out this first book in the trilogy.

Mini review: A professor is kidnapped by two men who take him in a spaceship to another planet where the professor escapes and on his own discovers the oddities of the planet. Unfortunately, I can't call this Lewis' best writing. It took a long time for this one to get going, but eventually it did pull my interest a little, but not much. In the end, this is mainly a work of philosophy, to some little extent that of religion. I don't think I can recommend this one except for Lewis purists or those who simply want to read as much older science fiction as possible, this one originally having been published in 1938. Also, for better or worse, this novel was so English (especially early on) that at times I felt like I should break out some tea and crumpets while reading.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Beer of the week: Carolina Pale Ale

Beer score: 6.3

Company: Carolina Brewing Company

ABV: 5.6
IBU: 40

Coming to us from Holly Springs, North Carolina, this isn't a bad brew. It's got a slightly dark golden color in a glass, and I have to admit it's a little more sturdy than it looks. I wouldn't classify this as a great beer, but the brewers have nothing to be ashamed of here. There was no head whatsoever when I poured it, which is neither here nor there in my opinion, but some folks like more head on their brew. Quite wet with a slight hoppy bitterness that grows stronger the more it lingers on the tongue, but without becoming overly strong. Kind of a flowery smell here, with a touch of malt graininess and maybe a little lemon or orange zest. The style is American pale ale, but it's definitely on the lighter side of any pale ales. Somewhat on the average side, but not atrocious by any means. You could do a lot worse, believe me.