Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Never have I ever read a book that was so in depth about any one subject. If you’ve ever thought about going into the business of wine, you need to read this book (and also be willing to drop everything going on in your life). Bosker took me on a journey that I was not ready for and that I didn’t realize I was craving. She trains for the Certified Sommelier Test like a person whose life depends on passing. Of course, according to the people we meet throughout the book, everyone trains that way.

These people… theses “Somms” are some of the most passionate people on the planet. They talk about this alcoholic beverage as if it has life-changing qualities. And I bought into every single word of it. I fell in love with wine while reading this book, and I still don’t even know that much about it. It made me want to meet Bosker in person and spend a week with her just so she can teach me about wine.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the book though is the scientific outlooks. Bosker met a bunch of doctors whose sole purpose in life was to figure out how our noses work. They helped her better understand the wine she was drinking and train her senses to guess the wine before she tasted it. But Bosker also read studies that put her in doubt about wine having certain characteristics. Studies that proved sometimes we humans can’t tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $1000 bottle. There were also studies that showed that those of us who can tell the difference between the bottles, think that the $1000 wine is better just because of its price.

Bosker went on to pass the test and become a certified Sommelier. I applaud her dedication and the dedication of everyone and anyone who finds something that they can throw themselves into wholeheartedly. I wish I could find a career that allowed me to read with as much passion as these people drink wine.


Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Most “coming-of-age” stories are the same. Or at least, fairly similar. Small-town girl moves to a big city. Girl gets a job in which she struggles at first. Girl falls for a boy that is bad for her while conveniently ignoring the boy that is good for her. In the end, the girl’s dreams come true and she ends up with the good guy. Sweetbitter follows that format for the first few steps, but it has the furthest this from a happy ending that I’ve ever read.

The story of Tess is a common one told in a very uncommon way. It felt like reading philosophy. The way the characters spoke to each other felt like it should have been performed on a stage. The really fucked-up relationships between characters made the story very raw. The rampant sex and illicit drug use made it feel like a teen drama. All of this combined into a great story.

My only issue was with the ending (Spoilers). I’m glad Tess leaves the restaurant. I’m glad that nothing is resolved between her and the bad boy. Stuff like that made the ending intriguing. What I didn’t like was that Tess got fucked (literally) by her boss after asking for a promotion. I lost all respect for Tess that I had gained throughout her story. And then she basically gets fired anyway. Maybe that’s what Danler wanted though. Kind of a broken ending for a very broken character.



Confessions of a Young Nero by Margaret George

When your mom is willing to murder for you, one would think that their reign as the Roman Emperor was fairly secure. Unfortunately for Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or just Nero, HIS mother was willing to kill her one-and-only son to ensure she was given equal power. How does one survive such a fatal family member? Stay one step ahead and murder mom before she can murder you. It’s super fucked up I know, but that’s how Nero had to live life.

Margaret George perfectly sums up what life was like for a Roman Emperor. Big-ass houses. Raunchy-ass friends. And the constant threat of murder from you family. She portrayed Nero unlike anyone I’ve read before. Mostly I’ve heard that Nero was an incestuous asshole. Stories say he was vindictive, he lusted after his mom, and, at the end, didn’t seem to care that Rome was burning around him. But George finally makes Nero the victim. And after reading this version of Nero, I would have to agree.

First, he was nearly drowned by his lunatic uncle Caligula. Then, he learned that his mother poisoned the only father figure he had ever known. Finally, the cherry on top, that same mother drugged and seduced her son into a seriously gross night. Nero was screwed from the start. There was no hope.

If you think you have some family drama, I urge you to read about Nero. It will make you feel a lot better about your messed up family. IMG_0895

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Rabbit holes. Book series. No difference. Very rarely do I see or hear of a book series and think to myself, “Eh. Sounds kinda boring.” No. Most sound like a one-way trip into a fandom. I’ve been led down three such rabbit holes so far: Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Magicians. And I regret nothing. It seems I have, again, been led down a rabbit hole by Victoria Aveyard; with a tale of a world in which people are divided by the color of their blood.

Those with red blood live poor, humble lives in small villages or urban ghettos. They are powerless. Most are hungry. And those eligible are conscripted to fight in a war that is not theirs to fight. The silver-bloods live lives as nobility and royalty. They have supernatural abilities which makes them ever more powerful than their red counterparts.

The story follows Mare Barrow, a red-blooded girl who discovers that she has silver-like abilities. The silver-blooded royal family tries to pass her off as a long-lost silver princess while trying to fight a rebel group of reds, known as a the Scarlet Guard, who are trying to bring equality to a very divided world. Mare must play along to save her family and best friend, and a prince she begins to fall for.

There is one thing about Aveyard’s writing/story-telling that I can’t decide if I like. That is the speed. Everything in this book happens very fast. It’s less than four hundred pages and there is so much to take in. Lies. Betrayal. Battles. It’s a lot. The small reason I dislike it is because I think that Aveyard could have drawn our certain events a little and still kept it interesting. In other words, I think there could have easily been two books written for the events that happened in only one. The reason the speed is good is because Aveyard has already written three more books and my brain is like, “GOOD GOD WOMAN, HOW MUCH MORE HAPPENS IN THOSE THREE?!?!?!”

So I think it is safe to say I’ve made a new home in Victoria Aveyard’s rabbit hole. Now I have to wonder which parts of the books will be ruined by the movies.


Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham

“Churchill’s attitude toward Roosevelt was one of profound affection and regard.” This quote is from Anthony Montague Brown and it, or some version of it, is repeated several times throughout this book. Interestingly enough, the same is never said about the way Roosevelt felt about his British counterpart. It is for this reason that I have a hard time calling their relationship a “friendship.” It seemed more like unrequited love.

Meacham explains why both men were the way they were. And both explanations are the same age-old tale: daddy issues. Winston Churchill was never able to satisfy his father, so he spent his adult life trying to impress and gain the praises of one of the most powerful men of the century. On the flip side, Roosevelt was spoiled by his parents, so his self-importance made him a hard man to impress, since he felt the better man regardless.

I get it. The psychology explains most of it. And World War II makes up the rest of the explanation. Churchill was desperate. He (and his military) needed help. And Roosevelt was the only man powerful enough to help in the way Churchill needed.

All of that aside, the relationship between the two great men was painfully one-sided. Churchill seemed deeply and sincerely interested in the friendship. He wrote letters, gave gifts, he even traveled to Washington D.C. to see Roosevelt. Roosevelt however, was distant and cold. He was a friend when duty required him be so, but otherwise he considered himself a superior human being, and above needing friends.

There were instances of affection from Roosevelt. Like when he offered his unconditional help to Churchill (and Britain) lost a battle in Tobruk. Or the moment they shared on a rooftop in Marrakech overlooking the city. But he could have just as easily turned on Churchill. Like in Teheran when Roosevelt joined Joseph Stalin in teasing Churchill all night, leading Winston to be jaded by Roosevelt’s kindness.

The relationship between these two larger-than-life men was, and remains, complicated. For me, calling it a “friendship” is a little too optimistic. Whatever they were to each other didn’t matter though. For they were heroes to their countries.


Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I love books about food. Mostly because I love actual food. But the way people write about it makes it sound like such a magical experience. Robin Sloan is no exception. She did, however, put a more scientific spin on it.

Lois Clary is a robot programmer from Michigan trying to make a living in San Francisco. She befriends two brothers who make food she loves including sourdough bread. When the brothers leave, they gift Lois with their sourdough starter. So begins Lois’ journey in finding herself within the sourdough. Is she a robot programmer? Is she a baker? Turns out she’s both.

In the most basic explanation, the book is a coming-of-age story, but it’s one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Sloan really captured what our generation is like in one beautiful quote: “we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.” This quote lingered in my mind through reading the book, resonated with me on an emotional level. Probably due to the fact that I am a huge Potterhead (Ravenclaw thank you very much), but also because of its truth. We want to know where we belong. We want to be told where we need to be. Even if it is an undesirable place.

So, read Sourdough.

Join Lois on her journey.

Go on one of your own.

Love something like some people love bread.


The One Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Are you ready for an adventure? Because it seems that you’re going to get one whether you like it or not when you travel with Allan Karlsson who just ran away from the old folks home, escaping hid 100th birthday party.

Throughout the book, Jonasson follows his character Allan around the world and across time. The book alternates between Allan as a centenarian on the run and Allan growing up. Being the history buff that I am, my favorite chapters are, naturally, the ones that take us back in time.

Allan’s life was an interesting one. One of his friends said that he had “nine lives” and from what I read, it’s true. Allan participated and lived through the Spanish Civil War, befriending Generalissimo Francisco Franco along the way. Then he came to the states where he worked as a waiter for those involved in the Manhattan Project, where HE was the one who figured out how to control an atomic explosion. After that, he went to China to help fight against Mao Zedong and the communists. He ran away from that and into the arms or Comrade Stalin, who he also told about the atomic bomb. After insulting the Soviet leader he was shipped off to a Siberian labor camp which he inadvertently burned to the ground. Finally, he got to meet Mao Zedong who set him up on vacation in Bali.

I love the way Jonasson wove Allan into a bunch of historical happenings. It made me think, “maybe there was some random guy who told the men how to explode the atom bomb. Or saved Mao Zedong’s  third wife. Or told Stalin to shave his mustache.” It’s funny to think about someone getting through all of that without even losing a limb. I love Allan as a person too. He only got into all this trouble because he was helpful and non-political. He just accidentally met up with the political figures.

If you only read one book in your life… it does not have to be this one. But it should be one like it. Full of accidental and unexpected adventure. IMG_0891

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

Here’s a fun fact about me: I am obsessed with British nobility. I would give anything to be able to be a fly on the wall of the big, old houses on the countryside of the ancient island. Thanks to Julian Fellowes, I got a good look into the modern-day lives of the blue bloods of England.

To make a long story a little shorter, Edith Lavery marries for position and title. Then she gets bored being a housewife of an English Lord and has an affair with a super good-looking actor. After a few months with said actor, Edith realizes that she left based on boredom and selfishness, and returns to the husband that truly loves her.

Throughout Edith’s journey between love and lust, we are introduced into a world of privilege and snobbery. Broughton Hall is the ancestral home of Edith’s husband. In marrying for position, Edith is thrust into learning how to be an Earl’s wife. She learns how to act, speak, and dress for the elite title she now holds. I don’t know the exact reason why I love British high society, but there is just something so… exclusive about it that makes me yearn to be a part of it with every fiber of my being (much like Edith).

I thought Fellowes did a wonderful job bringing the world of the elite to life. His descriptions of the manor houses are so detailed, right down the fabric of the lounge chairs. He made me feel like I was in the cozy sitting rooms watching the oh-so dramatic scenes unfold in front of me.

Actually, now that I think about it, the reason I love the British high-life so much is because I wish I could argue and be petty as hell with all of the grace and dignity of a Countess.

I guess I’ll have to keep practicing. IMG_0890

The Residence by Kate Andersen Bower

Is it so wrong that we want to discover the most intimate goings-on of America’s most famous house?

Well thanks to Bower we can say we have some idea. Through interviews with several former and current staff members, Bower opens a world that few get to experience.

The White House is America’s most famous residence and it houses America’s most famous family. What Bower shows us however, is that the First Family is not the most important group with the house’s walls. Bower interviewed several White House staff members from maid Betty Finney all the way to Barack Obama’s private secretary Reggie Love, and has collected stories from those who were closest to all of the families that lived in the famous house, showing that many of the members of the First Family are just as human as you and I.

The most amazing part of this book was the stories from those staff members who spent 20-plus years working in the house and had seen multiple families come through. I was truly impressed by the stories of the staff members that willingly sacrificed marriages, time with children, even their own lives for the job.

Bower does an amazing job using the interviews to highlight the similarities and differences between the several occupants of the White House. She also does a good job at letting the reader in on some White House secrets and odd idiosyncrasies of former presidents (i.e. JFK’s naked swims and LBJ’s weird obsession with his shower).

My favorite part though, was the staff stories and reactions to major historical events. There was the high tension during the Iran Contra Affair; the heartbreak and sadness during the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; and the shock and fear as staffers recant how they literally had to “run for their lives” on the morning of September 11th 2001.

I myself cannot imagine working in an environment of such prestige and trying not to make a big deal about it. I recommend this book to all kinds of readers. It is an endearing journey through history.

And if that can’t sway you… Just read it for the story of how Hillary clocked Bill in the face with a book. Classic. IMG_0889

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

I confess myself a little disappointed by this book. The disappointment is self-inflicted though, I should have known this book was nowhere near long enough to be about the entire reign of Victoria like I thought it was.

Daisy Goodwin’s novel takes the reader through approximately the first year-and-a-half of the young queen’a reign. We meet Alexandrina Victoria Saxe-Cogburg-Gotha and see her become Her Majesty the Queen of England. We see her deal with and try to avoid her over-bearing mother, the Duchess of Kent and her adviser Sir John Conroy. We follow as Victoria confides in her Prime Minister William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne and grows to feel more than just friendship for him. Finally, we watch as Victoria falls, reluctantly, in love with her cousin Albert.

Like I said, most of my disappointment stems from the fact that this book did not follow the entire reign of Victoria, but another wave of disappointment came from the book’s mundane quality. The story we get from Goodwin is fine. It’s decently researched and well-written, but it focuses on the daily life of the young queen, and only her daily life. There were so many historical happenings during her reign. Granted, there may not have been many during her first year, but I guess I was hoping that Goodwin’s story would stretch beyond Buckingham Palace.

The character of Victoria bothered me as well. That’s not Goodwin’s fault since the eighteen-year-old probably was the spoiled brat that she was portrayed as in the book. I guess I don’t like Victoria’s inconsistency. We see her fall for Lord Melbourne and see her subsequently get rejected by him. So, like any good stung teen, Victoria decides that she will reign like her glorious ancestor Elizabeth I and never marry. Then, in waltzes Albert to whom she proposes marriage. I find it hard to believe that after being so sure that she never wanted to marry, that she would suddenly fall for her cousin after only a week. For all I know, that’s how it really happened, but it made the end of the book feel rushed.

I’m glad I read it. I recommend to those who enjoy Historical Fiction. IMG_0888