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.