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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Crystal is Still Foolin’ ‘Em

Billy Crystal 3

My introduction to Billy Crystal was as Harry Burns, in When Harry Met Sally, my all-time favorite rom-com. So when I read his book, Still Foolin’ Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys? I was surprised to learn that he had also played for the NY Yankees, was an adopted little brother to Mohammed Ali and friend to Mickey Mantle. I had no idea that Crystal was also a director and had hosted the Oscars 9 times, or that he hosted one of them while also hosting the flu virus. Crystal’s account of turning 65 doesn’t make me look forward to it, but I certainly admire and somewhat envy his journey to get there.

Another thing I didn’t know about Billy Crystal—that he is such a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. I loved the entertainment history Crystal describes, especially regarding his movies (When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, Analyze This, and Monsters, Inc. to name a few) and his experiences with Saturday Night Live, but it’s the special family moments and events he shares with thoughtful clarity, such as his daughter’s wedding, that brought tears to my eyes. Crystal’s perspective and memories on the 9/11 attack were also insightful and touching.

Like most of Crystal’s work, his book will make you laugh, cry, and groan. What a truly amazing life. My thanks to Billy Crystal for sharing it with us. Santa Barbara Winery’s Pinot Noir is an excellent accompaniment for this journey.

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Meiomi Pinot Noir and an Act of War

Act of WarBrad Thor has an uncanny knack for anticipating our next national security threat before it happens, which make his most recent thriller, Act of War, especially frightening. In the latest of his series with former Navy Seal Scot Harvath, Thor brings a long-standing enemy onto new territory—American soil—and Harvath must save the country he loves from a threat that skirts the boundaries of science fiction, and which, if deployed, would not only destroy the American way of life, but kill millions in the process.

Thor’s latest installment is nonstop action and you can’t help but wonder exactly where the line of his fictional world crosses into our modern reality. I’m not going to become a doomsday prepper yet, but Act of War certainly made me consider it.

Harvath typically prefers beer, but not being a beer drinker, I recommend Meiomi Pinot Noir. It’s light and slightly sweet—the perfect contrast to Harvath and his ongoing adventures.

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Dry Creek Vineyard’s Red Zin Warms a Cold Cold Heart

Cold cold heart pic Cold Cold Heart grips you from the first sentence of the prologue, pulling you into the mind and unrelenting heart of its heroine, Dana Nolan. Although parts of Tami Hoag’s thriller about the sole surviving victim of a sadistic serial killer are hard to read due to their graphic and violent nature, it is even harder to put down.

The details and insight Ms. Hoag offers into the realities of a brain injury add an interesting element to this crime thriller. Also, as the child of a veteran, I especially appreciated her treatment of PTSD and the adjustments and harsh realities many of our veterans face when they return home.

You can’t help but pull for Dana, wanting her not only to survive, but to reclaim herself and what the killer took from her in the process. Somewhere along the way the plot becomes a bit predictable, and I saw the ending coming long before I reached it. Regardless, Ms. Hoag has created a sympathetic and interesting character in Dana, and her dual story of recovery and survival makes for an exciting read. Like a good roller coaster, even though I saw the end coming, I still enjoyed the ride.

This read requires something that will provide warmth and comfort. With that in mind, I’d recommend Dry Creek Vineyard’s Heritage Vines red zinfandel. Enjoy, and happy reading.

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Chateau Montelena is the perfect complement to Gladwell’s David and Goliath

David and Goliath 2Dyslexia is a disability—or is it? Air raids destroy morale—or do they? David’s victory over Goliath was a miracle–or was it?

Starting with the biblical story of David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell provides a new perspective on how we traditionally think about what is advantageous and what is debilitating. He forces the reader to reconsider traditional assumptions about characteristics and situations as beneficial or detrimental. Circumstances and/or personality traits that are traditionally considered to be disadvantages, such as dyslexia, could actually be the x factor that creates success. On the flip side, factors traditionally thought to lead to success, such as attending elite schools, may in fact have the opposite effect.

Like Gladwell’s previous book, Outliers, David and Goliath uses thorough research and fascinating stories throughout a diverse range of times, places, and circumstances to illustrate his point that “much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.” Chapter by chapter, Gladwell shows us how certain dynamics apply to and impact our realities in ways we may not perceive. These stories question modern assumptions and demonstrate the amazing human capacity to adapt and overcome.

In the 1970s, Chateau Montelena played the role of David to the Goliath of the French wine industry. It was the underdog in a blind wine tasting that started California wines on the road to the prominence they enjoy today. Their story is the basis of the movie Bottle Shock. Chateau Montelena is most famous for its Chardonnay, which is excellent. However, they also make an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon. Either of them would be a superb complement to this book. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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The Outlander and D’Autrefois

Outlander 3

Diana Gabaldon’s first book, a historical romance titled Outlander (you may have heard of it—Starz recently created a series based on it) was intended as practice, just to see what it would be like to write a novel. Though it tends to wander and one scene near the end is distorted and just plain confusing, overall it’s an interesting, if long, read. By “long” I mean 850 dense pages. By “interesting” I mean entertaining and compelling.

Her main character, Claire, is a capable, intelligent, stubborn woman who finds herself in circumstances out of her own time and any logical understanding. Her obstinacy, love, and compassion drive her to fight on and persist in mostly shrewd ways. Despite her experience as a wartime nurse, she repeatedly underestimates the dangerous nature of her new environment, mainly because it’s simply outside the realm of possibility in her personal experience, having been suddenly thrown from 1945 British Isles into 1743 Scotland, which was at war not only with the British, but internally between clans. In this largely uneducated society where burning witches at the stake was an acceptable and common practice, Claire’s modern knowledge and behaviors are inherently dangerous.

The historical aspects of Outlander were compelling for me and drew me along where the story, romance, or characters started to lag. The setting and Claire’s experiences in it made me wish I knew more about Scottish history, both so that I could better understand the nature and depth of the perils she might be facing and how her presence and actions might, or potentially may already have, impacted her modern day.

What to drink with an epic historical romance like Outlander? Well, Claire is treated to a wine she describes as a very strong and delicious rosé by one of the Scottish chieftains, but I’ve yet to be introduced to a British or Scottish wine. If you know of one that you would recommend, please comment so that I can try it. For now, I’d recommend a light French pinot noir called D’Autrefois. It’s flavorful and has a reasonable price point so you don’t have to make one bottle stretch 850 pages.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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The Dresden Files and Storybook Mountain

Dresden with Hershey

My brother gave me the Dresden Files on DVD years ago, which I enjoyed and was disappointed that the Syfy series wasn’t continued to a second season. So when I recently learned the show was based on a series of books, I couldn’t wait to read them. I finished the first three in a couple of weeks and am in the middle of book 4, Summer Knight.

The magical side of Chicago as created by Jim Butcher and traversed precariously by the city’s only wizard for hire, Harry Dresden, provides endless entertainment through the main character’s dry, sarcastic, and self-deprecating humor applied liberally to a diverse cast of creatures and characters. As usual, the books provide useful detail that was excluded from the TV show. In Harry’s case this is most evident in the extent of his power and the darkness lurking in his past, very near the surface and always inserting itself into his life to complicate his present.

You can’t help but love Harry’s tendency to throw the finger at the powers that be, which have certainly never been of benefit or assistance to him, even when he needed it most. The depth of Wizard Dresden’s self-sacrifice and refusal to ask for help or to inform others, usually for their own protection in his mind, is extreme and can be annoying at times, especially to an independent woman who wouldn’t need or want his extreme chivalry. However, it’s these same characteristics that get Harry into those amusing predicaments time and again.

In Harry Dresden, a man who can’t stop himself from standing between the innocent and the dark powers that inhabit his magical realm, Mr. Butcher has created a character you can’t help but root for, who grows into his power a little more with each book, someone you want to know and understand better, to watch him prevail not only over his past, but over the dark forces he’s compelled to stand against on behalf of the vulnerable and non-magical. If you require his services, you can find Harry Dresden on Twitter, @HarriedWizard.

Due to the nature of Harry’s adventures, a Storybook Mountain wine would complement them well. I would recommend either the Mayacamas Range or Eastern Exposures Red Zinfandel (shown above). If you have a preference for white wines, their Viognier is also an excellent choice. You can order them at Storybookwines.com.

As you can see, Hershey insisted on helping me with this one. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Game of Thrones includes all 7 Deadly Zins

GOT blog pic2

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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Brilliantly disturbing book (Gone Girl) + simple fun wine (Ménage à Trois) = a perfect night in

Gone Girl

After reading prolifically for more than 30 years, it’s rare for me to be surprised. In fact, the last time I can remember being surprised by a plot twist is The Sixth Sense, but Ms. Flynn manages to do just that. Her characters and the story come alive from page 1, and despite the fact that the more you learn about these characters the less you like them, she somehow makes you desperate to know what happens to them anyway. Ms. Flynn creates a feeling of anxious hope that despite the depth of their flaws (think Grand Canyon), Amy and Nick Dunne or their circumstances will somehow come out “right” in the end.

Spoiler alert—The prosecutor in me was deeply offended by the lack of justice the ending provided. I would have preferred to see criminal charges and prison time. That said, though I may have disliked the outcome of Amy and Nick’s story, it was an appropriate and entirely plausible conclusion for them that may ironically be what they both deserve.

A story this complex and dark needs something simple and light to balance it out, so I would recommend a lovely red blend by Folie a Deaux, called Ménage à Trois.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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