Category Archives: Recommendations

Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews

Magicshifts1Magic Shifts, the latest in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, is such an entertaining continuation of Kate and Curran’s exploits that I read it not once but twice—the first time just to see what happened next, and the second because I was sure I missed fun details in my haste to finish it the first round. Reading the final page was disappointing only because I have to wait a year to see where they go next. I hope Ilona Andrews is busily crafting the next installment.

In Magic Shifts, Kate and Curran are trying to be good neighbors and fit into their life in the suburbs. Kate has a new and extremely powerful enemy to fight, one whose magic is as old as hers, which presents unexpected repercussions for her. In confronting him, Kate runs head on into her own humanity and its limitations. As Dr. Dolittle repeatedly reminds Kate, she is not as she often acts, invincible, and she is forced to come to terms with that.

Roland’s presence is constant now despite Kate’s efforts to the contrary, and like his appearances in the previous book, his presence at this point seems benign, yet ominous, and provides for a bit of humor.  We also get to see where the lives of our other favorite players—Andrea and Raphael, Jim and Dali, Barabas, Christopher, Derek, and Julie— are going and get to know some others including George and Eduardo, Mahon and Martha, a bit better.  Kate and company have some serious and hilarious verbal and physical smack downs with family, neighbors, and friends as well as their enemies.

It was interesting to have a new foe, but I have to admit I missed Hugh a little. As always, I loved learning about the area of mythology and history related to this new threat.  Through Kate’s exploits, I’ve learned about Celtic, Hindu, and now Arabic mythology.

To accompany Kate’s latest endeavors, I would recommend Muriel’s Rioja Reserva. It’s a beautiful deep, ruby red in color, a little spicy and very flavorful. It’s also quite reasonably priced.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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The Paying Guests and Montoya’s Pinot Noir

Paying Guests3In The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters takes us across the pond and back in time to a society where women’s roles were set and their choices limited. In post-war England, where so many men—brothers, fathers, husbands, friends—were lost, the women and society as a whole are struggling to adjust to a hard-won peace they somehow find disappointing.  While they are grateful for peace, the men who have returned are damaged, former soldiers can’t find work, and women can’t find husbands.

Ms. Waters succeeds in transporting her reader to the world in which her main character, Frances, struggles to keep the family home after the deaths of her brothers and father. She does this by making the difficult decision to take in boarders. In deference to their situation and consideration of her mother’s feelings, their neighbors refer to the boarders, Mr. and Mrs. Barber, as the “paying guests.”  They also pretend not to notice Frances’s damaged hands from the daily housework and labor she’s taken on since they could no longer afford to keep servants.

Though Frances was determined at first to maintain professional boundaries with the Barbers, loneliness and time wore those boundaries down until they crumbled under the weight of attraction and possibly love. Trapped and desperate, the lovers’ plans go horribly wrong, with devastating and irreversible consequences. Frances can’t escape her fear for their freedom or her guilt over what they’ve done. Emotions and turmoil not only tear at their relationship, but their physical health and even their sanity.  Warning—some of the sex scenes are quite graphic, as is a rather detailed account of a miscarriage. This book is definitely intended for adults.

Though the descriptions can run long, the plot is well-developed and the characters multi-dimensional. You feel compassion for them and somehow understand their actions even if you don’t agree with or like them much. It’s a long read, and therefore calls for a lighter and reasonably priced wine. I’d recommend the Montoya Pinot Noir.  You might want shoot for the multi-bottle discount, so that you have enough to accompany all 500+pages.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Whiplash is the perfect pairing for Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner

Phantom 1In Phantom Instinct the thrill ride starts on page 1 with mass murder that seems random, but quickly becomes personal for Harper Flynn. With her hopes pinned on a man who sees a threat where there is none, who can’t decipher between friend or foe, the ride is treacherous indeed for Harper and the people she loves most. This latest thriller by Ms. Gardiner offers true heroes—normal people who work daily to overcome their imperfections—and a team of heartless, highly intelligent, ruthless, and focused villains.

Harper and Aiden are each broken, working to heal and move forward. Harper overcame a selfish and drug-addicted mother and years in juvenile detention to make something of her life. Aiden demonstrates early on that he is willing to sacrifice all in the service others. This willingness left him damaged in ways that he could never have anticipated. They are supported by characters whose heroism becomes evident as the story unfolds: one who is willing to give her life for a girl she doesn’t know, and another who finds his courage when our heroine needs it most.

Ms. Gardiner’s tale starts at the top of a steep hill, then continues to build speed and momentum until, like a roller coaster, you know there’s a big drop coming–something truly scary and stomach twisting–but you can’t wait to get there. The end provides a twist so unexpected that I didn’t believe what I was reading (and re-read it just to be sure).

Phantom Instinct is an exciting, fast-paced read. Based on its breakneck pace and mind-bending plot twists, I’d recommend Whiplash red zinfandel to accompany it.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT? A Memoir by Roz Chast

Can't we talk2My father passed away more than a decade ago, but my mother’s health is declining and that point—the one we all prefer not to think about—the day she can no longer care for herself, is approaching with scary speed, much like the headlights of a train or maybe a Mack truck. If you find yourself in a similar place or can catch a glimpse of it on the horizon, this memoir by Roz Chast is a must-read.

In Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Ms. Chast addresses the difficult, heartbreaking and at times overwhelming, topic of caring for aging parents with intelligence, sympathy, and humor. A professional illustrator, Ms. Chast uses her own experiences to provide a road map for the rest of us who are on this journey with a loved one. No matter where we are in our journeys, she has illustrated it in an honest and comic fashion. Ms. Chast’s memoir is a quick read and well worth the time.

This subject requires something a little stronger than wine. If you like scotch, this would be a good time tap into your single blend. If, like me you’re not into scotch, I’d recommend a vodka martini.

Happy reading!

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Conundrum’s complex red is the perfect companion for Sorrow’s Anthem

Sorrow's Anthem 1In Sorrow’s Anthem, Lincoln Perry, a former Cleveland police officer turned PI, is determined to clear his childhood friend’s name after watching him die brutally at the hands of police officers. He soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that reaches far beyond the death of his friend.

As Perry begins to unravel the threads of the events leading to his friend’s murder, he finds that they extend more than a decade into the past and far deeper into the Cleveland law enforcement community than he imagined. It becomes clear that proceeding could lead to his own death, but due to a sense of loyalty mixed with more than a little guilt, Perry can’t rest until his friend’s name is cleared.

These same emotions lead him to pursue this case with less caution than it deserves, causing him to knowingly walk into dangerous situations without proper preparation and backup. He knows this, acknowledges it, and does it anyway. The risks he takes as a result cost him dearly, and the truths he learns are, as is often the case, things he would rather not know.

In Sorrow’s Anthem, Michael Koryta has created a great crime thriller. Lincoln Perry is a likeable character despite his flaws. You can’t help but admire the depth of Perry’s loyalty to his friend and his old neighborhood. It’s a fast paced read that includes at least a couple of twists you won’t see coming, which is always a plus. It was my first ready by Koryta, but it won’t be my last!

This crime thriller pairs perfectly with Conundrum, a rich, complex, and mysterious red blend. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Nora Ephron’s Heartburn pairs nicely with a little Sass in a Glass

Heartburn2Nora Ephron may be best known as the author of the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally. Most people know Rob Reiner directed the movie—and that famous scene in the restaurant—but Ms. Ephron wrote the original screenplay, which was nominated for an Oscar. Heartburn came first, and in it you can see Ephron’s same acerbic sense of humor. In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that at least one line from Heartburn was recycled in When Harry Met Sally. It’s an excellent line, deserving of being used more than once.

Heartburn was not as lighthearted as I expected, but it was a very entertaining read, despite the fact that the story revolves around the demise of the main character’s marriage. It takes on a more interesting edge if you understand the context of the book, which was based on Ephron’s own divorce from her husband Carl Bernstein, one of the journalists who broke the Watergate scandal, and their life in Washington D.C.

Despite the heartbreaking subject matter, Ephron’s wit carries you through the book with her acidic humor, truly ludicrous situations, and well-placed recipes worthy of trying. According to Heartburn’s heroine, Rachel, she has the recipe for the perfect vinaigrette, which she offers up to the readers along with many others including crispy and mashed potatoes, peach pie, and bacon hash. Learning from Rachel’s experiences, I now know that if I ever decide to throw a pie at someone, I’ll make sure that it’s blueberry, not key lime. Meryl Streep, who starred in the movie, also narrates the story if you do books on tape or download the narrated version.

A perfect match for Heartburn is Sass in a Glass, by Crossroads winery. Far from acidic, it’s a smooth red blend with just the right amount of spice. You can find it here: http://umbrawinery.com/menu/.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Coppola’s Director’s Cut Pinot Noir is the wine to drink at Stephen King’s Revival

Revival pic2The story of Revival is dark and tragic. It is not one I would choose on my own; however, my book club selected it and I read it all the way through. Whether or not you enjoy the more macabre side of his tales, Stephen King is unarguably one of the best writers of our generation. His characters and storytelling draw you in quickly and keep you reading, whether you want to or not. I kept reading Revival for two main reasons: 1) the love of the main character, Jamie, who is introduced as a young child and 2) because I had to see what happened to him and his “fifth business,” the Reverend Charles Jacobs, even though I knew it would likely be disturbing. It was.

King’s description of the small town Jamie where Jamie grew up and the church where he met Jacobs were spot on in my experience, even though my small town and church were deep in the heart of Texas, not in Maine. The similarities were a bit chilling, minus the tragic plot twists and the “terrible sermon” that changed Jamie’s life. All of that was easy to picture, unlike anything that came after it. If you appreciate great characters and storytelling, you should enjoy the read. If you also appreciate Stephen King’s particular type of storytelling (you know, creepy, scary, sometimes terrifying), you will love this book.

I didn’t love Revival, but not because it wasn’t beautifully crafted. It was. I still enjoyed reading it, in spite of its dark nature. It was even better when I could accompany it with a glass of red wine, such as Coppola’s Director’s Cut Pinot Noir. Since summer is almost here and temps are climbing, I would suggest drinking it slightly chilled.

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J.D. Robb’s Festive in Death pairs nicely with Chateau Montelena’s Cabernet

Robb pic2In typical J.D. Robb fashion, the festivities begin on page 1 of Festive in Death.  I love this series and have been waiting for this one to come out in paperback. It was worth the wait and, since the setting revolves around Christmas, I’ll re-read it when the holidays come around this year.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas has come a long, long way since her introduction in Naked in Death. In Festive, she and Roarke are hosting a holiday party for their friends and colleagues—a feat that could not have happened earlier in the series. Eve’s reluctant participation and the party itself add a colorful backdrop to the murder she is, as usual, trying to solve.

What is unusual about this murder, (this is not a spoiler, because it’s clear from the beginning) is that Eve’s victim, Trey Zeigler, is a true scumbag. The depths of Zeigler’s sleezy and predatory nature grow more apparent as the investigation progresses, and Eve gives him far better treatment than he deserves.

Being Lieutenant Dallas, she approaches the murder of her scumbag victim, Ziegler, in the same determined professional way she does with her other more innocent victims, though with slightly less pressure. This lightens her load just enough to allow her be more present in the festivities and truly enjoy her friends and family at the holidays. There is an interesting twist, of course, and Robb keeps it under wraps right until the end. Another great read from a creative and prolific author.

Roarke has a preference for high-end red wines, typically a cabernet sauvignon. To keep him and his cop wife company, I would recommend one of Chateau Montelena’s cabernets, such as the one pictured here. They are a little on the pricey side, but it’s a quick read, so one bottle should suffice. Enjoy and happy reading!

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The Dresden Files…The Saga Continues

Dresden filesSince February’s review of books 1-4 of the Dresden Files, I’ve continued to burn through them, having difficulty putting them down. This is due in part  to my Kindle, a magical and dangerous device, which immediately upon reaching the end of one book provides a popup offer to download the next book in the series. I tell myself I’ll just download it–I do have other books to read–but inevitably I start reading and find myself sucked into Harry Dresden’s increasingly dangerous world yet again.

As I’d hoped, he’s continued to grow both in maturity and in his magical abilities, which have yet to be fully explored (looking forward to that in books 10-14). While he hasn’t totally overcome his overblown sense of chivalry, he’s toned it down thanks to being surrounded by strong female characters, especially Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, but also Anastasia Luccio, captain of the wardens of the White Council, and Lara Raith of the White Court Vampires.

Wizard Dresden’s dry wit remains, providing humor in the most unexpected places. He admittedly can’t keep his mouth shut, especially in dangerous situations. As the cast of characters grows—some human, others not-so-much—so does the family he’s creating, which inevitably raises the stakes on his antics and involvement. These well-constructed characters are easy to love and only serve to add to the reasons I’m compelled to continue reading. Even with the higher stakes, Dresden is unable to stop himself from intervening to protect the weak and the innocent, the vulnerable and non-magical. You can still find him on Twitter @HarriedWizard and also at Jim Butcher.com.

Due to the nature of Harry’s adventures, a Storybook Mountain wine would complement them well. I would recommend a Red Zinfandel. If you have a preference for white wines, their Viognier is also an excellent choice. You can order them at http://www.storybookwines.com/

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Game of Thrones includes all 7 Deadly Zins

GOT blog pic2

Since Season 5 starts tonight, I thought this merits reposting. Winter is coming…and hopefully we’ll see some dragons as well.

7 Deadly Zins is the ideal beverage choice for George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Like the books, it’s spicy with a full texture. For those of you who didn’t grow up in a conservative Christian home, the seven deadly sins are spelled out right on the bottle. Not only do the players in Mr. Martin’s game of thrones commonly engage in all seven but he may have even invented a couple of new ones.

Martin’s vast world of feudal kingdoms and his expansive cast are complex and never dull. You’ll find characters to both love and hate. Their flaws are often otherwise positive characteristics taken to an extreme, which can and often does lead to their deaths. Fair warning–Martin is not the least bit afraid of killing his characters, even central ones, and he uses death to twist the plot in unforeseen ways. So don’t get too attached to anyone. Sometimes I found myself burning through a book just to see who survives or how a loathed character dies.

If you’ve watched the HBO series but have not read the books, I strongly recommend that you do. This is especially true for female fans. Yes, the books are long, but they provide a level of detail that simply can’t be included in the TV version. The writers and producers of the HBO series have had to consolidate characters and plotlines in the interest of time and budget. They’ve also weakened and dumbed down some of the female characters and included far more nudity and brothel scenes than Martin wrote into the books. Go figure.

However, the HBO series brings the books to life in a stunning, visual way and delivers scenes where you just want to cheer, both for the characters and for HBO’s portrayal of them. Since we’re talking about 5+ books and seasons, you may want to invest in a case of the 7 Deadly Zins. The good news is, it’s a moderate price point and you’ll likely earn a multi-bottle discount. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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