These are the first words I’ve written since my Halloween story I did back in October. I’ve probably committed struggling writer sacrilege by doing the polar opposite of NaNoWriMo, but it wasn’t on purpose, I swear. Please don’t revoke my membership card just yet. November just ended up being an odd and irregular month that simply didn’t allow for any writing to happen. I did, however, get a lot of reading done, did some traveling, took up a few new hobbies, and participated in the American tradition of straining a family relationship through difficult conversations had over a meal of mostly empty carbs.
Anyway, I do have a few ideas and stories lined up to close the year out with, along with (I promise!) the next installment of Maybe True, Mostly Metaphor. All the pieces are there and written almost the way I want it. I just have to make some changes to capture the spirit of the first two installments. This is a story I want to make sure I get right…
So, on to the bookstore adds, some good music, and even better drinks.
New Bookstore Adds
Fiction: The Coast of Fear
My wife and I often like to place bets with each other on random and pointless things. For example, a few weeks ago we were walking through town and saw an extravagant house that was for sale. I looked at her and said, “I bet you this place is selling for at least 600 grand,” to which she said there’s no way. So we bet on it. The problem, however, is that we have a shared income so betting money doesn’t do much good.
Instead, we bet something far, far more valuable—the next book we decide to read. In other words, when I win a bet, I get to decide which book she reads next. If she wins, she picks my next book. This means that, when I win, I obviously punish her by picking the worst, most poorly written, and usually downright torturous literature possible (cue the 50 Shades of Grey, Twighlight, and any science fiction written by L.Ron Hubbard jokes).
Most recently, I lost a bet (the house was, in fact, only selling for 550,000) so she handed me this blank cover hardback book with an obscure sounding title and author I’d never heard of. While I wouldn’t consider it a thriller on the scale of Ian Fleming or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it was pretty enjoyable.
The Coast of Fear takes place on the southern coast of Spain in the dead of winter, a season that sees few tourists to the normally sunny and vibrant coast. It’s the early 1950s and an American woman finds herself in the center of a cat and mouse game involving international crime and money.
My favorite part is simply the fact that it was written in the 50s, so the style of writing and word choices were refreshing for me—I feel like it expanded my idea for what a story could be, the kinds of traits a character could have, different storytelling techniques, etc. Bottom line, it’s a fun, short read when you want a break from the typical modern day books that all seem to be about the same, predictable secret spy, broken family, or angsty teenage girl/magician/lawyer.
Bonus Fiction: The Gameshouse
I told you guys I had gotten a lot of reading done the past few weeks and I do feel (a little) bad about not having a November newsletter, so I’ve got bonus books for you this time around.
The Gameshouse, by Claire North, is actually three of her novellas combined into one full story. Without spoiling anything, there’s this place called the Gameshouse where select few people can play “games” where the real world is the board and people are the pieces. The prizes for winning these secretive and shady games have an impact on world events and the plot has a very conspiracy/cloak and dagger/ancient magic feel to it. The plot and overall idea is fantastic and original, as are the exotic settings and time periods—17th century Venice, 1930s Bangkok, and modern day everywhere. The writing itself fell a little flat, there were a few moments that felt too unbelievable or convenient, and the pacing of the story felt unbalanced a lot of the time, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying how North paints fun mental pictures of beautiful and vibrant cities with interesting characters.
Nonfiction: Craft Coffee: A Manual
Fun fact, coffee is the second most traded item in the world behind oil. Before you shrug off that statement, think about it. Coffee is the second most traded item in the world. More than textiles, technology, raw materials, food, drugs, everything. The only thing more important than coffee is oil—the stuff that powers warships, planes, and every aspect of our lives.
And yet, coffee has only been around for a few hundred years. Compared to beer and wine, our connection and understanding of coffee is still in its infant stages.
I say all this only to justify my love of good quality, hand-made coffee brewed with the freshest of beans. Craft Coffee: A Manual is designed to help the average person make a perfect home-brewed cup of coffee that suits your tastes. It covers everything you could want to know about coffee beans—from the different varietals to flavor profiles to how different growing regions and climates affect taste. You’ll understand coffee from the plant to your cup and every step in between. The book also covers various brewing methods and gives you all the info you need to customize your coffee making techniques to get your morning drink tasting exactly how you want it. This book was fantastic and I reference it all the time when I want to fine-tune my coffee (or, dial it in, as the coffee world calls it).
Bonus Non-fiction: Wind, Sand, and Stars
This book was pure poetry, by far an instant favorite on my bookshelf. Wind, Sand, and Stars was written by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry (also author of The Little Prince) just a few years before disappeared in his plane over the Mediterranean. In this book, he writes about what it was like to be an airmail pilot in the early 1900s when airplanes were the pinnacle of human ingenuity and every flight was an adventure into the unknown. Saint-Exupéry writes about the human soul, the spirit of adventure, war, humanity’s connection with nature and the world, and more in his book. And it’s written in such a beautiful and colorful way that people who aren’t interested in flying, adventure, or the romance of travel, should read it anyway just for the prose factor. Definitely pick this one up the first chance you get, you won’t regret it.
That’s it for books. As always, these are affiliate links because…money (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases).
It very quickly got cold where I’m at now, so I’ve been in transition from my Fall folk favorites to the techno and jazz-pop that I like to chill out to. Whether I’m staying active indoors with boxing or hitting the ski slopes outside before hanging out with friends and drinks in the lodge, this genre gets me in a good flow state. I listen to it a lot when writing, too, for that same reason. It just gets me in a really good mental flow. My favorite is actually a Japanese artist who goes by Nujabes. His best works, in my opinion, are “Feather” followed by “Love(sic)” parts one, two, and three. These songs have classy and catchy piano hooks with smooth, flowing vocals, cleverly sharp lyrics and funky beats that just leave you feeling good.
Unfortunately, you won’t find a wide collection of music from Nujabes because he died far too soon in a car crash back in 2010.
December Drink Menu
Hot buttered rum, guys. It’s by far my favorite thing to drink in the winter or when outside, exposed to the cold. There’s a dozen recipes for it online but my preferred method is to eyeball cinnamon, unsalted butter, maple syrup, and turbinado sugar in a large, widemouthed coffee mug, add three shots of your favorite rum (bourbon works, too) and fill the rest of the mug with boiling water.
Stir it up so the butter melts into the drink and you’ve got a soul warming cup of boozy happiness that, in my opinion, is far tastier and more exciting than other types of hot cocktails like toddies and mulled wine.
That’s it for now guys. I’ll have a few stories out for you this month and, if you have any Thoughts on the Rocks topic requests, just let me know and I’ll be glad to write on it!
(The featured picture this month: I found this street art while passing through Philadelphia earlier this month. Since I’ve talked about coffee a lot in this month’s letter, I thought it would be fitting to include.)
Go, learn, enjoy