On Ted Lasso, and the single best review of anything I’ve ever read

Y'all, the purpose of this blog was never meant to just point you to other people's writing (like my last post did), but sometimes, other writers just insist on posting things that need to be read by more people. My wife and I have absolutely adored the series Ted Lasso. It's been appointment television for … Continue reading On Ted Lasso, and the single best review of anything I’ve ever read

On Writing Prompts, and one of the very best responses I have ever seen

The Norse God Odin welcomes warriors who fell in battle to Valhalla I'm not a huge fan of writing prompts. The truth is, I already have more ideas than I have years left to live (that means I have a lot of ideas, not that I am in any immediate mortal danger) and I'm not … Continue reading On Writing Prompts, and one of the very best responses I have ever seen

Can Fantasy be Myth? Mythopoeia and “The Lord of the Rings”

Speaking for myself, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to call reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time way back in the fifth grade a life-changing experience. Tolkien’s trilogy led directly to my own life-long love of stories and mythology. I can’t help wondering if, without that experience in my childhood, I would have written a novel of my own. I may well have, but I don’t think it would be as myth-infused as Raven Wakes the World. In short, my experience of reading The Lord of the Rings, like that of so very many other readers through the decades, was the kind that changes a person for all time, or at least inspires a life direction — and for me at least, even a sort of pilgrimage. That’s the type of response that one usually has only to the most significant, the most sacred stories — the cultural heritage of truth disguised as narrative that serves as a guide through the dark forests of life. In short, myth.

Hey, y’all! I’ve been interviewed!

As most of you know, my novel Raven Wakes the World is going to be released tomorrow, and should be available wherever fine books are sold. While most of the marketing and such won't hit until November (it's a holiday gift book after all), I'm excited to announce that my first interview has just been … Continue reading Hey, y’all! I’ve been interviewed!

On Ray Bradbury, Pat Conroy, Renaissance Fairs, and setting as a character in a story (Combining Blogs, Part 3)

Dear folks, A while back, I started a second blog, one just for my renaissance fair novel, Blackthorne Faire. I'm combining them, because, well, it's a lot easier to maintain one blog than two, and a lot of the topics I want to write about, like music in fiction (just to name one), fit equally … Continue reading On Ray Bradbury, Pat Conroy, Renaissance Fairs, and setting as a character in a story (Combining Blogs, Part 3)


Dear folks, A while back, I started a second blog, one just for my renaissance fair novel, Blackthorne Faire. I'm combining them, because, well, it's a lot easier to maintain one blog than two, and a lot of the topics I want to write about, like music in fiction (just to name one), fit equally … Continue reading ON RENAISSANCE FAIRS AND THE FEELING OF BEING LOST IN A STORY (Combining Blogs, Part 2)

Food for thought … can the old pulp heroes of yesterday work in a contemporary setting?

My love for the old pulp heroes — characters like Tarzan, Doc Savage, Professor Challenger, and the Shadow — came early, and when it took hold, it never let go. First loves are like that. It started, like so many of my early loves, on Saturday morning. I was watching TV with my dad — … Continue reading Food for thought … can the old pulp heroes of yesterday work in a contemporary setting?

In which I am interviewed on writing and marketing, I write about Renaissance fairs and setting as a “character” in a story, and prepare to write about the old pulp heroes of yesteryear

In which I am interviewed on writing and marketing, I write about Renaissance fairs and setting as a “character” in a story, and prepare to write about the pulps

The Sword and the Grail: Restoring the Forgotten Archetype in Arthurian Myth

Like the Grail, the sword of power is an artifact of supernatural (even Divine) power, surrounded with golden light. In many ways the polar opposite of the Grail, Excalibur is a symbol of power in the world—of victory in battle and ruling a kingdom. The feminine Grail comes from a masculine source, the Fisher King in his Grail castle, but the sword comes from a woman—a goddess figure, no less—the Lady of the Lake.

Did y’all know I have another blog, too?

Hey, did y'all know I have another blog, too? It's about stories, writing, fantasy, mythology, and Renaissance festivals.

You can find it here: http://blackthornefaire.net

The most recent post is about Renaissance fairs, and the feeling of falling into a story. I hope those of you who follow this blog will take a look at that one, too. I'd be grateful.

Love and comfort in fantasy, or why George R. R. Martin isn’t the American Tolkien

I often hear Mr. Martin called "The American Tolkien." I can see why people say that. Both write (or wrote) extremely complex fantasy novels, both have very passionate fan bases (with a great deal of overlap), both have created British Isles-inspired worlds rich with invented history and languages, and, well, both authors have the initials "R. R." in their names.

But honestly, I think the resemblance ends there. The similarities are superficial at best.

Reinventing this blog … just a little. (Or … A New Mission)

As many of you already now, I've recently signed with a new agent, Mr. Peter Miller of Global Lion Intellectual Property Management. Peter's a great guy, and to be blunt, he gets things done and deals made. I'm just all kinds of lucky to be working with him.

As as my books and scripts get closer to finding their way to bookstores and screens, I'm going to be sharing a little bit of that journey here.

Book Review: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

The Prague of City of Dark Magic is a city steeped in legends of magic, a history of blood, and a legacy of secrets. It has been home to geniuses and eccentrics. It is also a city of secrets as music student Sarah Weston discovers. Sarah has come to the Prague Castle for the summer with a team of colorful academics to restore the Lubkowicz Palace to its former glory and turn it into a museum filled with centuries old treasures. There, she finds clues that might finally unravel the mystery of Beethoven's famous immortal beloved. What follows is a tale of mystery, politics, murder, a time traveling prince, a centuries-old dwarf, and even a portal to hell. Yes, and its a romantic comedy. This isn't a book that follows genre conventions, it lays them out like toys and plays with them.

Pizza Review: Pizza K (no, really, it’s good!)

Frankly, I wasn't expecting much from generic-looking hole-in-the-wall Pizza K. But much to my surprise, I saw bags of flour, tomatoes, and, you know, actual ingredients. Not frozen dough or canned sauces. this is probably the best Chicago style pizza I've had outside of the cities of Chicago or Orlando, at least since Uppercrust closed back in the 80s. It is terrific pizza, especially for the price.

Movie Review: Man of Steel

The Man of Steel is a really good film, and one of my favorite superhero films ever. I loved the epic scale, I loved the realization of a truly alien, dying Krypton, and I loved the richness of the characters, even the ones that are only on screen for a few moments. In short, it's terrific, but when a film is good, the obvious flaws that keep it from being great are that much more frustrating.

Musing on Some Elements that Work in Fantasy, Part Two: Iconic Imagery

As we build the ePic Books brand, we're focusing on a single genre (or range of subgenres, I guess), at least for the first year or two: fantasy. A part of our strategy involves looking for certain elements that the very best and most successful fantasies—I'm talking the classics, the most beloved and enduring works that stand out, across years and even generations. One of those elements, Iconic Imagery, is very closely related to the Iconic Locations detailed in Part One.

Musing on Some Elements that Work in Fantasy, Part One: Iconic Locations

When asked to picture Narnia, you probably think of something rather like this, don't you?[/caption]If asked to close one's eyes and picture Narnia, I am willing to bet that just about everyone will picture a snow-covered wood surrounding a clearing where a lamppost sheds a soft, golden light ... just beyond a wardrobe door. Something about that image, that specific location, is iconic. It's a strong, concrete, visual image. It's something we almost can't help responding to, almost like it, that one place, was a character in a story. When we revisit, years later, it's like meeting an old friend.

Ten Places to Get Amazing Pizza in Atlanta

If I had a dime for every time I've heard someone say they just can't find good pizza in Atlanta, I could buy a lot of slices, all with extra cheese. Frankly, the comment never ceases to astonish me. That is, until I remember that it's usually uttered by carpetbagging Yankee new-comers who likely haven't … Continue reading Ten Places to Get Amazing Pizza in Atlanta

Book Review: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Wow, the last quarter of 2011 has been a grand one for books. Erin Morgenstern's lovely and haunting The Night Circus continues a string of truly good reads that began with Among Others and The Magician King. It's a book I'll be thinking about for a while, and one I'll alms certainly read again some day ... something increasingly rare when my to-be-read stack reaches the ceiling. It's certainly one I'll be pushing on my friends. It's one that I can recommend to a wide swath of them, because The Night Circus will appeal to a very broad range of tastes. It's romantic, it's mysterious, it's evocative (certainly that!), magical, it's lovely, and it's (at times) heartbreaking. And it's almost impossible to describe. I wanted to rush through The Night Circus, and I wanted to savor every word. I couldn't wait to get to the end; I wanted it to go on forever.

Book Review: “The Magician King” by Lev Grossman

I went to hear Mr. Grossman speak when his author tour brought him to Atlanta, and while I found his talk and reading delightful, I didn't think The Magician King was a book I'd be reviewing. Largely because, when someone asked about a third book, Mr. Grossman joked about writing as many as his agent thought he could sell. Great, I thought. This isn't a book. It's an episode. I couldn't have been more wrong. While The Magician King assumes familiarity with the first book (although it does a fine job of reminding you of the hight points if it's been a while since you read it), this is a sequel with it's own beginning, middle, and very definite end. And darned if it's not an out an out better book. More, Quentin Coldwater (how great is that name?), the main character, grows and changes in this book.

Book Review: Jo Walton’s amazing “Among Others”

I readily confess: I am not above flights of hyperbole. Nonetheless, I don't think I am indulging in it even in the least when I say, Jo Walton's lovely, startling Among Others is more than amazing. It's a book that's going to save someone's life some day.

Beer Review: Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin Ale

Heavy Seas Great'er Pumpkin Ale is everything I ever hoped a pumpkin ale would be. It pours a lovely brown amber (almost orange) color with a tan head that doesn't linger. The aroma, rich cinnamon and spice with caramel sweetness and, of course, pumpkin, is pleasant and evocative — it makes you think of those bright Arthur Rackham illustrations of the Fezziwig's party in A Christmas Carol, or holiday feasts in a Norman Rockwell painting. There is something quaint and lovely about it, something distinctly autumn, a comfort scent.

Music Review: “Old Blue Truck” by Charles de Lint and “Crow Girls” by MaryAnn Harris

Listen to Old Blue Truck by Charles de Lint and Crow Girls by MaryAnn Harris If you've read the contemporary "real world" mythic fantasy works of Charles de Lint, you know he has a knack for creating believable characters that seem just a little too real, and stories that exist somewhere in the twilight land … Continue reading Music Review: “Old Blue Truck” by Charles de Lint and “Crow Girls” by MaryAnn Harris

Theatre Review: “Noises Off” at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival

Catch Noises Off at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival ... but hurry. Far, far too often, I hear people complaining about the lack of good theatre in Atlanta. Frankly, this always mystifies me. I find myself asking, what have you seen? Did you catch The Alliance's brilliant productions of The Road to Mecca or Dancing at … Continue reading Theatre Review: “Noises Off” at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival

One more root beer review: Abita Root Beer

Sip an Abita Root Beer, straight from Louisiana Like more than a few of the better microbreweries, Abita also brews a root beer, which it boasts is made from pure Louisiana cane sugar. I have no idea what's different about Louisiana cane sugar, but it's mighty tasty in Abita Root Beer. Like all the (admittedly … Continue reading One more root beer review: Abita Root Beer

Film Review: Disney’s lovely animated “Tangled”

Disney's 50th Animated film, Tangled, was released back in November, and I'm guessing that most of you probably missed it in theaters, which is a shame. I didn't catch it until (close to) the last week. It's available on DVD now, and I hope you'll check it out if you haven't. It's Disney's best effort since Beauty and the Beast. Yes, music aside, it's better than The Lion King—which, despite that astonishing opening sequence and fantastic score, never did find a middle act. The animation is, in a word, stunning. And learning from their compatriots at Pixar, Disney absolutely nailed both the story and the characters. It's been a while, Disney animators. Welcome back.

Hard Cider Review: Magner’s Irish Cider

Try Magner's Irish Cider Continuing to answer my requests for more cider reviews, after my reviews of Crispin's The Saint and Browns Lane, I offer a few words on a hard apple cider imported from Ireland: Magner's. In fact, if forced at gunpoint to name a favorite "everyday" cider, this is probably the one I'd … Continue reading Hard Cider Review: Magner’s Irish Cider

Book Review: “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” by Galen Beckett

was about halfway through reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Galen Beckett's The Magicians and Mrs. Quent when I decided to pop online to check out the reviews. It's a rather irritating habit (irritating to me; I can't imagine that anyone else cares), but I like see if every one else agrees with my own assessment. The first review I read (I tried to find it again to link, but alas, it seems to have vanished) offered this critique: "nothing new." For the record, that doesn't seem to be the majority opinion, but frankly, I can't say I disagree. None of the ingredients, or few of them, anyway, are what you'd call groundbreaking. But then, it's not always the ingredients that make the stew; it's how they're mixed. Sure, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is pastiche. But it's very good pastiche. Outstanding, even. My wife and I too turns reading it aloud to one another, and we had an absolute blast.

Hard Cider Review: Crispin Browns Lane Imported English Cider

The taste of Crispin Browns Lane Imported English Cider is surprising. After the gentle sweetness of the Saint, I’d expected something similar from the Browns Lane. Not so much. The first taste is tart, mouth-puckeringly so. So much so that it look a few sips before I decided that I liked it. The sweetness that you expect from is there, certainly, but the sharp tartness almost (but not quite) overwhelms it. It’s not as refreshing as Crispin’s other ciders, but it has a dry, well, uniqueness that grew on me, sip by sip. It’s bitter; it’s sweet.

Beer Review: Baudelaire Saison Ale from Jolly Pumpkin Ales

The pleasantly strong and bready aroma is apparent as soon as the bottle is opened. It's wheaty and yeasty, with subtle hints of fruit—dried orange, maybe—and floral notes. It pours a ruby red (like roses, of course) with one of the thickest, creamiest heads I've ever encountered. It reminded me of a root beer float. The taste surprised me—it wasn't nearly as sweet as I was expecting, although there was a very subtle fruity, floral undertone. The hints of sweetness, as a matter of fact, came mostly in the very pleasant, lingering aftertaste. Almost like a white wine.

Belated Book Review: “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke

If there was ever a book I truly don't know what to say about, it's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Don't get me wrong—I adored it. I've recommended it to dozens of my friends. But not all of them. I don't even recommend it to all of my friends who like fantasy, or mythic fiction, or British drawing room comedies of manners. It's a massive book, something like 400,000 thousand words (that's a guess; I haven't actually counted them). Nonetheless, I found myself enchanted from page one. Magic and sly witticisms were so thick I had to swat them away like flies, and the oh-so-English narrative delighted me. The characters are engaging and well-drawn, and the period voice, complete with obsolete spellings and elaborate, fanciful footnotes (don't dare skip them!) delighted me. All the same, when I was nearly halfway through, I found myself still wondering when the actual story was going to get started. It had been going all along, but Ms. Clarke, like any good magician, had distracted my attention.

Hard Cider Review: The Saint from Crispin Cider

A few days ago, I happened to pick up a bottle of The Saint from the Crispin Cider company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It comes in one of those large, two-pint bottles that's just perfect for sharing. Usually, I'll check reviews before trying something new ... especially when a bottle goes for more than eight bucks. I didn't this time. what the heck. The label promised crisp, all-natural cider with hints of real maple syrup and the Belgian Trappist Yeast that's a key ingredient in some of my very favorite ales. I took a gamble, and I'm glad I did. It was an absolute treat.

Book Review: “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss

The sequel to The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear, was released a few years later than promised, but it was worth the wait. The new volume picks up right where the last one ended. The central character, Kvothe, has been narrating the truth about his life—already a legend—to a scholarly young man known as Chronicler. Kvothe promised that the telling would take three days. The first volume was day one; the new one is the second day. The final volume, day three, should be released within our lifetimes, if all goes well. There's apparently a sequel trilogy coming after that. I have no idea when, but I feel utterly safe in saying that whenever it arrives, it will, like The Wise Man's Fear, be worth the wait.

Book Review: “Guardians of the Desert” by Leona Wisoker

The sequel to Secrets of the Sands, Guardians of the Desert, actually expands on the earlier book's strengths—the world is deeper and more complex and the characters have grown. Leona's sense of pace hasn't dulled, and the mental pictures conjured by her spare but elegant prose and much more vivid. Her subtle, wicked wit is still apparent—and still luring to catch the reader unaware.

Book Review of something utterly new, strange, and powerful: “The Orange Eats Creeps”

It makes me uncomfortable to picture Grace Krilanovich crafting The Orange Eats Creeps. I get these fleeting, nightmarish image of a young woman, wild-eyed and too thin, scrawling the words on the underside of a bridge somewhere, or on the walls of the kind of bar I'd be afraid to enter, even if I was cool enough to know how to find it. I picture her mainlining caffeine laced with meth, or something, some drug I've read about in newspapers, not for stimulation but to dull the fire of stranger substances screaming though her veins like electricity. Because you see, witnessing the birth of an new kind of literature, a utterly new way to pound and twist blocks of English into something mind-blastingly fresh, is a little frightening.

Beer Review: Saint Somewhere’s Lectio Divina

Try a tasty Saint Somewhere Lectio Divina

First, I have to admit a hint of bias. I bought amy first Saint Somewhere's Lectio Divina at my neighborhood Candler Park Market because, quite frankly, I feel in love with the bottle. I know, I know. You can't judge a book by its cover and all that. But with a front label that suggests the idyllic whimsy of Maxfield Parrish and a lyrical back label that echoes, almost, the pen of my favorite poet, William Butler Yeats, they could have filled the thing with mule piss, and I would have been predisposed to like it. Thankfully, they did no such thing. The Belgian-style ale inside absolutely lives up to it packaging.

Book Review: “Mr. Timothy: A Novel” by Louis Bayard

I am not generally a fan of writers making use of another author's characters. While I have enjoyed more than a few modern takes on, say Sherlock Holmes, more often, we wind up with something like Scarlet, the unworthy followup to Margaret Mitchell's brilliant Gone With The Wind. Mr. Timothy: A Novel succeeds largely because in Dickens' original, Tiny Tim is little more than a caricature, a sort of cherubic plot point with a crutch. Building on our shared memory of "God bless us, every one!" Bayard shapes Timothy into a fully realized character—one that fascinates and, yes, makes us care.

Book Review: Looking for the King, An Inklings Novel

A very special Christmas gift brightened this past gloomy
December: a chance to spent some remarkable evenings in
conversation with the Inklings, that famous band of readers and
writers that counted among its members C. S. Lewis, J. R. R.
Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and Hugo Dyson. This
remarkable experience came in the form of a new book,
Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel by
David C. Downing. It's a delightful read. The story tells of a
young American, Tom, who has come to England in the years just
before World War II to research a book on the historical King
Arthur. Along the way, he encounters a lovely young woman, Laura,
who is haunted by dreams that seem to be leading her to specific
historical sites, all of which are connected to a famous lost
artifact—the Spear of Destiny that pierced the side of Christ as he
hung on the cross. Along the way, our heroes are fortunate enough
to receive some help from the Inklings themselves, especially
Williams, Tolkien, and Lewis.

Review: J. D. Rothschild’s Hot Chocolate Blend

The best hot chocolate I've ever tried came from a friend's mother some (I think) 25 years ago, who made hers from shaved gourmet chocolate and fresh, creamy milk. Nothing else I've tried has come close, alas. Nothing, that is, until I tried a tin of J. D. Rothschild's Premium Hot Chocolate blend over the snowy Christmas holiday. It's probably not fair to compare a powder from a can to a 25-year-old memory of melting shaved chocolate, but I am happy to report that J. D. Rothschild's holds its own just fine.

Beer Review: Abita Christmas Ale

Abita, a brewery in the New Orleans area, follows in the Samuel Adams tradition, making bold, small batch beers and ales with very distinctive bitter, hoppy tastes that are both unique and proudly American. Their Christmas Ale is no exception. My pal Mike Mikula, the brilliant cartoonist, introduced me to Abita Christmas Ale when he found Sweetwater Festival Ale a little too sweet for his tastes. While I am usually more fond of the sweeter and spicier winter ales, I have to admit, this is a mighty tasty alternative.

Beer Review: Sweetwater Festive Ale

This year, I was fortune enough to fine two (two!) favorite Christmas ales: Red Brick's Long John (reviewed yesterday) and Sweetwater's Festive Ale—both from my very own home town, Atlanta. As I mentioned, the annual arrivals of the Christmas/Festive/Winter ales at my local pubs are some of the most eagerly anticipated joys of the season for me. This is an especially good year for Christmas ale.

Beer Review: Red Brick Long John Winter Ale

Even allowing for regional bias (Red Brick is brewed here in my hometown of Atlanta), Red Brick's Long John is one of the best Festive/Winter/Christmas ales I've tried. It pours a nice deep burgundy color, with a rich head that thins to a nice lacing ... like frost on a window. The scent is bready and rich, and the taste is, well, festive. There are hints of cocoa and fruit, raisins, figs, and banana, and spices. The body is medium and smooth.

A few (expanded) thoughts on the future of television

Watching online shows makes me wonder if the networks and media giants are watching, too. They'd better be. I talked to a few of my neighbors at a Halloween party, and learned that more than a few of them are ditching cable and satellite services altogether, and replacing them with Internet television delivery solutions. Thanks to sites like Hulu or TV Guide, most network shows can be streamed to your computer, tablet, or TV, especially if you are willing to spring for a device like Apple TV, Google TV, or Boxee. Some televisions, in fact, already ship with Internet-ready connections built in.You can find most (if not all) of your favorite networks shows, and you can purchase or rent others from Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes. Best of all, you can watch on your own schedules, with or without commercials.

Web TV Review: The Best Sketch Comedy Show

As you can tell from the descriptive if not overly modest title, The Best Sketch Comedy Show is a sketch comedy series. So far, the team has posted eight episodes, each around four or five minutes long. All of them are funny enough to make you smile—and, in fact, all contain at least one or two good laugh out loud moments. In short, if you go out to see live improv, and you enjoy it, this is going to be your cup of tea. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Book Review: Lost Lore: A Celebration of Traditional Wisdom

Just last night, my wife Carol and I discovered something nifty that we didn't know we could do with our iPhones. That wasn't the first time that's happened — almost every week, we're learning something new about our latest gadgets and toys. Er, I mean tools of our trade. But it seems like for everything that's learned, something is lost. It makes me a little sad to think of the gems of knowledge, once deemed critical, that are now relegated to the dusty attics of our brains until, at last, they vanish forever. That's why I was delighted to discover Lost Lore: A Celebration of Traditional Wisdom.

Web TV: My Bitchy Witchy Paris Vacation

My Bitchy Witchy Paris Vacation is a six-part Web series created by writer/filmmaker Alexis Niki that follows a menopausal mother and her two daughters, one pregnant and one adolescent. It's not really a drama, and it's not really a comedy (although it has plenty of both to offer), which means it likely never would have found a home in the TV Guide grid. But the portrait it paints of three women at three very different and pivotal points in their lives, and their efforts to bond, are fascinating.

6 Blogs For Writers And Those Who Lead The Creative Lifestyle

There's something kind of meta about a blog that reviews blogs. But the title says "John reviews pretty much anything," right? As I see it, my blog, my rules, yes? Uh, anyway. There are dozens blogs out there that I've found enormously helpful, and dozens more that I find fascinating or even challenging, and still more that are just downright entertaining. I'm starting with a few favorites that deal with writing or creativity in general. Some are about writing, some are about living the creative lifestyle, and some are just about turning your passions into a career. In any case, they all deserve to be shared.

A Brace of Beer Reviews: Victory’s Moonglow and Old Chubb

Saturday afternoon, the only thing that made the Braves heart-rending loss tolerable was darn good company and a truly excellent beverage: Victory Brewing Company's Moonglow Weizenbock, It is without question one of the very best weizenbocks (a strong German style wheat beer—yeah, I had to look it up to be sure) I've ever tasted. Which is saying quite a lot, because honestly, I can't think when I've ever had a bad one. Put simply, Moonglow belongs on the shelf right next to my beloved Aventinus. It's that good. unday's much happier Braves game was accompanied by a lovely Scotch-style ale, Old Chubb. At first glance, it looks rather like the Moonglow—a dark amber brown with a thin, lacy head. It's one of the better Scotch Ales I've tried, one that brings back happy memories of McEwan's Scotch Ale, a dear old friend that's far too hard to find these days.

Book Review: “The Meaning of Night” by Michael Cox

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post listing my fifteen favorite first sentences in literature. At the time, I hadn't read Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night: A Confession, or I would have been forced to give serious consideration to including it. It begins: After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an Oyster Supper. Now that's a pretty good start. It's an opening that hooks us immediately on the story, certainly. It's hard not to wonder what's going to follow that. More, it hooks us on character—who is this narrator, and how can he describe an act of terrible violence in such a casual manner? I'm happy to report that the book lives up to the promise of that first sentence. It is a dark, chilling read, and an utterly compelling one.

Game Review: Falling into a Story with The Lord of the Rings Online

The Lord of the Rings Online is a computer game that actually captures the feeling of falling into a story. There are some limits, of course, but by and large, Middle-earth is yours to explore at will—from Thorin’s Hall in the west to Lórien and perilous Mirkwood in the east. Using the arrows on your keyboard, you can send your character wandering through the towns and forests of the Shire, or through the dangers of the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs (both deliciously creepy), or even all the way to Bree and Rivendell, where old friends will be waiting. The experience of the game is astonishingly immersive—sounds, voice, and music blend seamlessly with the visuals. Every environment is lovingly—at times even astonishingly—rendered. Even more than Peter Jackson’s films, the game feels like Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Book Review: “The Great Reset” by Richard Florida

I'm not sure that anyone other than Richard Florida (author of The Rise of the Creative Class) could thoroughly examine today's economic climate and its long-term implications, and write a book that leaves the reader with a rather surprising feeling of optimism. Nonetheless, he's done just that in The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. It's a absolutely fascinating and even exhilarating, if perhaps a bit too broad, read. More importantly, it expresses a vision that seems to make readers on both sides of the vast political divides want to roll up their sleeves and get busy. Like the best visionary works, it's a very practical and timely call to action.

“Secrets of the Sands” by Leona Wisoker

In Secrets of the Sands, Leona Wisoker has created an elaborate, well-crafted fantasy world that doesn't feel like the too-familiar pseudo-Celtic Medieval Land, and a complex desert society that doesn't feel like, say, Dune or The Arabian Nights. She's created a logical and consistent language that feels exotic but (despite the ubiquitous apostrophes) doesn't feel like Klingon or Tolkien's masterful Elvish. She manages to use her language to make her world seem textured and real, but still keeps her dialogue fresh, lively, and yes, even contemporary. Secrets of the Sands is a fun read—it's delightfully original, and it deserves attention.

“Secret Voyage” by Blackmore’s Night

Once again, Blackmore's Night takes us on a journey through ancient times to modern. As always, Richie Blackmore's guitar stylings are energetic and complex while Candice Night's vocals are utterly bewitching. The merry band of minstrels that accompanies them are solid as always. The album begins with an instrumental, "God Bless the Keg," opening with a harpsichord solo until other instruments join in, ending with a haunting, deep organ. That leads seamlessly into "Locked Within The Crystal Ball," a song that echoes the darkest, most romantic fairy tales—with a beat that's somewhere between fast Celtic folk and driving rock. Those two cuts provide a very strong opening.

“Total Oblivion, More or Less” by Alan DeNiro

Read Total Oblivion, More or Less: A Novel Total Oblivion, More or Less is a strange novel. In a lot of ways, in fact, it's a novel about strangeness, and how ordinary people deal with it. Imagine Huck Finn's raft drifting through a post-apocalypse American wasteland. Things have changed. The government has disappeared, geography itself … Continue reading “Total Oblivion, More or Less” by Alan DeNiro

Jake’s Hot Fudge and Capobianco’s

Jake's had no hot fudge. For an ice cream shop, that seems, well, wrong. It's like that one blemish that keeps it from perfection. The very next day, I received a message from Jake Rothschild himself, the Jake, Jake of Jake's. Jake assured me that the rumors were true. Homemade hot fudge is on the way. In fact, if I would come down and be the official taster, he would name the hot fudge after me. A blogger's work is never done. Since I take my responsibilities very seriously, I agreed. Someone, after all, has to do it. The whole name thing, of course, has nothing to do with it. Not to kill the suspense, but since I was the official taster, and the product is named for me, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that the review is (spoiler alert!) going to be a good one. The simple truth is, the reality far exceeded my expectations. It is, quite simply, the best I've ever tasted.

Speaking of handmade, the Irwin Street Market also boasts a bakery called Capobianco's, which bills itself as "the King of Cannolis." They are fantastic. The pastry is light and wonderful, and the fillings of sweetened, whipped ricotta and chocolate chips are to die for. They also offer a surprising (and constantly evolving) list of variations, including chocolate dipped (I suspect Jake may have something to do with that chocolate sauce, although that is just speculation), chocolate mint, and even blueberry. The blueberry is amazing. When I was tasting Jake's Hot Fudge, I overheard Franky Capobianco, the baker himself, ordering fresh mango. That's a variety I can't wait to try.

Jake’s Ice Cream at the Irwin Street Market

I first discovered Jake's Ice Cream about six or seven years ago (thanks to my pal Katy) and I've loved it ever since. It is, quite frankly, the best I've ever had, bar none. And believe me, I've tried quite a bit. I love good ice cream. Jake's is hand made in small batches, and while it's much harder than soft serve, it's still softer than most. It actually tastes like what you might get out of a real, honest-to-God, old fashioned churn at home, if you had the genius to concoct such amazing recipes as Chocolate Slap Yo Mama and Brown Sugah Vanilla.

Throw-back SciFi in “Deuces Wild: Beginners’ Luck” by L. S. King

The arc that makes Deuces Wild: Beginners' Luck work is the at first reluctant friendship that grows between the two leads. Imagine what might have happened in Star Wars had Luke met Han in that bar without Obi Wan and some urgent mission. Imagine them slowing coming to respect, and even like each other and they drift planet to planet, constantly finding new trouble to get themselves out of. The growth of that friendship is what keeps you smiling in spite of yourself and turning the pages.

Intown Acupuncture

For years, I've suffered from severe seasonal allergies. Actually, I'm not sure severe is a strong enough term, but I don't want to be overly graphic in a family blog. Enough to say that it had been years since I'd been able to enjoy spring or fall.

I made an appointment with Intown Acupuncture, located just a mile and a half or so from my home. First, I have say that the experience met none of my preconceived expectations. The practitioners were not male or Asian, they didn't wear long red silken robes decorated with Chinese symbols and characters, and they didn't have those little pointy gray beards. The needles were not long and gold, nor were they tapped in with a hammer. Apparently, Hollywood has misguided me.

The practitioners are are professional, kind, and skilled, and happy to educate. The needles are small, and barely break the skin. But ... it works. Now, I'd been warned that I wouldn't see results after the first or second treatment. It would take three or four. That turned out to be true. Since that fourth treatment, I haven't needed allergy medication. Seriously. Not a single tablet or Albuterol shot. I still have a symptom or two, but not enough to make me lose my voice, hack up a lung, or (best of all) lose a wink of sleep. I doubt I would have exhausted even one of those little pocket packages of tissue. On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being no result at all and 10 being stones to bread, Red Sea parting, and pillars of fire in the desert, I'd put it at around an 8. Given that my insurance covers it, I might even push it up to a 9.

“The Ruling Sea” by Robert V. S. Redick

Pretty much everything I said in my review of The Red Wolf Conspiracy also applies to it's sequel, The Ruling Sea. Once again, Robert V. S. Redick has created a fantasy that recaptures the swashbuckling adventure that I first fell in love with in my youth in books like The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, and those marvelous, under-appreciated tales of Lloyd Alexander.

“The Angel’s Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Yesterday, I reviewed Carlos Ruiz Zafón's brilliant novel, The Shadow of the Wind. Continuing with the "holy crap this is good" theme, today I'm taking a look at his follow up, The Angel's Game. While both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game are completely stand-alone novels, they are subtly connected. The two novels both a part of what Zafón says will eventually be a four-book cycle of loosely connected stories with overlapping narratives and characters. While either can be read alone, reading both makes each a deeper and richer experience. In fact, I read The Angel's Game at the same time that my wife Carol and I were reading The Shadow of the Wind aloud to one one another, a strange and wonderful experience.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I've wanted to review Carlos Ruiz Zafón's brilliant and lovely The Shadow of the Wind for a while now. I've hesitated largely because I needed to think of something to say other than simply, holy crap this is good! I first read the book back when it was first published in the United States—it was already a best seller in Europe—about four years ago or so. Over the holidays, faced with some sixteen hours in the car with two trips to Morristown Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama, my wife and I decided to take turns reading it aloud to each other. I wondered, frankly, if it could possibly be as good as I remembered. It was. No, wait. It was even better.

Great first sentences in literature

As both a reader and a writer, I've come to appreciate the power of a truly excellent first sentence. I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the most memorable and best-loved books ever written have truly amazing first sentences. In many cases, you can name the book just from the power of those all-important opening words. Think of Melville's "Call Me Ishmael," or Dickens's "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Classic. Unforgettable. Here are fifteen of my very favorites. Trust me, every single one of these books lives up to the promise of that first sentence.

“The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” by Laura Miller

I am nobody's skeptic. As a matter of fact, I consider myself very, if hardly conventionally, religious. That said, I read Salon co-founder Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia with a constant grin on my face, as passage after passage made me cry out with delight, "friend!" Here is someone who seems to not only understand the love I felt for C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, a love that still endures very deeply in my heart, but also my love of stories and reading. Indeed, she helped me understand that love better, and by consequence, the person I am and the writer I want to be.

“European Romanticism: A Brief History with Documents” by Warren Breckman

Warren Breckman's European Romanticism: A Brief History with Documents takes an interesting approach: it allows readers to discover a topic as historians would, but reading through the actual documents of the period, including literature, essays, letters, and more. A fairly brief introduction—some forty pages—gives a very thorough overview and introduction. After that, the period is the reader's to explore.

“The Magicians” by Lev Grossman

When I first browsed through Lev Grossman's The Magicians at Blue Elephant Bookshop, I knew it was a book that was coming home with me. The jacket blurb promised a book for adults who, as young readers, had adored the Narnia, Oz, and Harry Potter stories, and books like T. H. White's The Once and Future King. And indeed, The Magicians draws liberally and lovingly from those sources. There is a magic school filled with eccentric professors and strange wonders, teaching by turning students into animals (as Merlyn does with the Wart in The Once and Future King), and even a hidden fantasy world accessed through a sleepy "between" world filled with pools, a motif familiar to anyone who has read C. S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, one of the best of the Narnia books. Even the characters in The Magicians grew up reading and loving a series of fantasy books. That fond, nostalgic love is one of the reasons we are so drawn to them. But don't get the idea that The Magicians is a mere pastiche. The Magicians is told from a decided, utterly (even ironically) original, and heartbreaking, adult point of view.

Grocery Items: Bacon and Tomato Sauce

When I titled the blog, I was still intending to review mostly books. But since I left the the door open, and since the weekend is the time for grocery shopping (otherwise, you miss the really long lines, and the fact that they're out of a lot of stuff), I'm going to pass along a few tips. Specifically, I highly recommend Dei Fratelli brand tomato sauce and Wright Brand Bacon for my bacon-eating friends.

The Book of Ratings and Fail Nation: like the Internet, only on paper!

The book versions of Failblog and The Book of Ratings are every bit as funny as the sites themselves. That’s not a great surprise, I suppose, since the content is the more or less the same. All the same, the print versions are worth their respective prices for a couple of reasons. First, it doesn’t cost that much, and it’s nice to see the content creators rewarded, at least a little, for their efforts. Second, you never know when the Apocalypse might come along, causing the Internet tubes to fall as civilization descends slowly and inevitably into barbarism. If that happens, you’ll be glad to have a few chuckles, I dare say.

“Silverlock” by John Myers Myers

In his introduction to the 1979 paperback edition of Silverlock (I still have my first 1979 Ace paperback, as well as a hardcover first edition and a lovely new hardback that includes the Companion), author Larry Niven enthuses: “You’ll get drunk on Silverlock. When you finish reading, you will feel like you got monumentally drunk with your oldest friends; you sang songs and told truth and lies all night or all week; you’ll sit there grinning at nothing and wondering why there isn’t any hangover.” I couldn’t agree more.

Two books (that aren’t quite) within other books

It's a joy to discover, after the last page of a good book is turned, that there is still more content to discover. Especially when the storytellers have the talent of Alice Hoffman and Catherynne Valente. This kind of expanded "book within a book" content is a trend I applaud enthusiastically. I hope we'll see more.

“Dreaming With Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture” by Michael Tucker

In Dreaming With Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture, Michael Tucker has compiled a veritable encyclopedia of the literature of shamanism: literal (historic and anthropologic) and metaphorical, and draws compelling connections between the ancient and the bleeding edge. Modern artists working on the fringe of creative boundaries, Tucker argues, strip away some of the filters of contemporary experience and perceive the world in a metaphoric, archetypal way, as Aboriginal dream painters do. The result is art that reaches past the the filters of the consciousness mind to challenge the unconscious mind directly in its native grammar, the language of symbol.

“The Third Angel” by Alice Hoffman

In The Third Angel, Alice Hoffman's prose is as lovely as ever. She is a master of a sudden and lyrical turn of phrase that seems as effortlessly graceful as a dancer's casual step. Every line has magic and poetry in it, the kind that makes you smile and, more than occasionally, look back to reread a phrase or passage. An example: "It was that silver-colored time between night and morning, when the sky is still dark, but lights are flicking on all over the city. It was quiet, the way it is in winter when snow first begins to fall." How perfectly and specifically evocative, concrete detail spun from froth and lace, and without a wasted syllable! Her prose has always been elegant, the way Earthbound angels would write, and she only gets better.

Beer Review: Aventinus

The best beer I have ever tasted. Period. Don't let its darker amber color fool you. It's sweet without being syrupy, full-flavored without being bitter, and complex without being overpowering. I'm honestly not sure I know how to describe the taste, except to say that it's like drinking a loaf of Christmas spice bread. If there was such a thing as a comfort beer, this would be it.

Vienna Roast by Atlanta Coffee Roasters

Fresh coffee — coffee sold with a week of roasting, and roasted within a few days of harvesting — makes an astonishing difference. Seriously. Astonishing. I made this discovery at Atlanta Coffee Roasters at the Toco Hills shopping center. It's a micro-roaster. The coffee they sell is flown in daily. If you ever step into the back room, you'll see great burlap sacks of coffee stamped with exotic ports from all over the world, waiting their turn for the artisan's attention. Then, small batches are blended and roasted to exacting standards. By comparison, even when you buy your beans from a gourmet specialty house, the coffee you're getting is usually at least a month or two old. If you're lucky. It's picked, shipped to the US, roasted, packed, warehoused, distributed, and ... well, you get the idea. At Atlanta Coffee Roasters, the beans are roasted literally every day. Much to my surprise, the difference in taste is amazing.

“Palimpsest” by Catherynne Valente

The joy of Palimpsest is in it's lush, dense, baroque, poetic and, yes, even haunting language. Every line is lovingly wrought, a treasure. Every paragraph aches with loveliness. It is utterly sensual and at times even erotic. It's also refreshingly witty. But it's like rich food; it's delicious, even decadent, but it's hard to take too much at once. It's a book to savor, in small bursts of bliss, and return to. It's not a book for careless beach reading; it is for autumn, with blanket, firelight, and blood-red wine.

“The Promised Land” by Dar Williams

If you know Dar’s music, you’ve likely already heard The Promised Land. If not, well, think of the realm of Sarah McLachlan and Sheryl Crow, with lyrics that can be mentioned in the same sentence as Waits, Cohen, Williams, Newman, Mercer, Dylan, and Simon. The Promised Land is a good place to start. But then, so is The Honesty Room, My Better Self, The Beauty of the Rain, The Green World, or … heck, any of them.. Do yourself a favor and listen. Closely. Then listen again.

“Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO” by Zachary Steele

"When the Anti-Christ and Satan entered the bar, nobody took notice."

That's a great first line. Believe it or not, it's not the start of a joke. It's the first line of Zachary Steele's novel "Annointed," which is a scream. If you're a fan of people like Christopher Moore or Douglas Adams, take a look. Sadly, (in my humble opinion) it hasn't received the attention it deserves.

In Good Company: “The Company They Keep” by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Until the publication of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s new book The Company The Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, I hadn’t realized how strong was my urge to be a “completist.” A new book out on the Inklings? By all means, I had to have it, period. This is fortunate, because if I paused to remind myself that I’d already read Humphrey Carpenter’s superb biography The Inklings, and then to ask if I really, really needed another book on the subject, the rational part of my brain might have said “no,” and (it’s not completely impossible) might have carried the day. And that would have been too darn bad. Glyer’s book makes a wonderful companion to Carpenter’s more well known volume, and stands very well on its own. Carpenter’s book is a biography; Glyer’s is an examination of the very significant ways in which, as a community, the Inkings challenged, inspired, influenced, and supported one another. The Company The Keep is a terrific and insightful read.

“The Gnostic Bible” Edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer

For those interested in the Gnostics and their actual beliefs and mysteries, as well as the early history of Christianity, The Gnostic Bible is a welcome resource. As a matter of fact, The Gnostic Bible is quite possibly the most comprehensive collection of Gnostic materials ever gathered in one volume. The Gnostic Bible collects a wealth of primary sources, Gnostic texts from a wide variety of sources, including three continents and spanning more than 1300 years. The expected texts are present, of course, including the famous Gospel of Thomas, along with some unexpected resources. Making the volume especially useful to students of Gnosticwisdom traditions, the texts are well-organized into distinct movements of Gnostic tradition: Sethian, Valentinian, Syrian, Hermetic, Mandaean, Manichaean, and even, surprisingly, later Islamic and even Cathar texts.

“Coyote Moon” By John A. Miller

As fond as I am of trickster tales, it's hard to imagine anything with a title like Coyote Moon can be anything other than mythic. Coyote Moon doesn't have a lot to do with coyotes, or even with tricksters (although I have a feeling that author John Miller himself may qualify), but the novel is certainly mythic. First, baseball plays a major role in the story. As the brilliant book Ground Rules: Baseball and Myth shows, baseball is a goldmine for mythic material. Add in liberal doses of cutting edge physics (if you're not up on your science, don't worry), possible reincarnation, and the search for meaning and miracles, and the result is a myth lover's delight.

“The Genealogy of Greek Myth: An Illustrated Family Tree Greek Myth” by Vanessa James

The Genealogy of Greek Myth is a handy resource. Packed with well-researched information, this book provides "at a glance" charts and surprisingly detailed information about the complex and often confusing relationships of the immortal Olympians and the mortal heroes they interact with. The author, Vanessa James, spent eighteen years putting the Genealogy of Greek Myth together, and it shows. The data is more than complete, it is exhaustive. More, it provides a truly elegant and genuinely useful way to trace the dynasties and major events of Greek and Roman myth.

“Spirits in the Wires” By Charles de Lint

Spirits in the Wires is fun and entertaining. As a thriller, it's a page-turner. But the myth and the poetry of the writing make it lovely, and the characters make it come alive. Our compassion for de Lint's beautifully-drawn characters moves us, and makes the novel linger long after the last page is turned.