“America Through a Glass”: And a Bottle of Rum Review (Audiobook)

“America Through a Glass”: And a Bottle of Rum Review (Audiobook)

Audiobook Info

Author: Wayne Curtis

Narrator: Mike Chamberlain

Length: 10 hrs, 7 minutes

“A rum bottle serves better as a prism through which to see how America changed and developed from the arrival of the first European settlers to the present day.”

As a 21-year-old who’s worked at restaurants, learned cocktail ingredients, and scarcely actually experienced artistic alcoholic creations, the premise of And a Bottle of Rum enticed me. Wayne Curtis presents a history of America in 10 cocktails, in 10 chapters, in 10 hours. Each chapter has a cocktail recipe, followed by the historical framework that brought that drink into being, and explains how rum, in each drink, morphed along with the nation.

Narrator Mike Chamberlain does an excellent job, bringing the tone and humorous anecdotes of the author to life. Curtis’ voice is engaging, conversational. He admits that many answers to origin questions are unknown, and recounts enchanting personal journeys to find authentic pieces of history. He includes an abundance of background facts on pirate crews, colonial tavern atmospheres, and individual key figures who shaped the history of rum. Curtis candidly presents the dark side, and the positive effects, of rum trade throughout the centuries. His depth of research and knowledge is impressive.

A comment on the density of the text: I received the most enjoyment and knowledge out of this book when I coupled it with other activities. For instance, in the car on the way to school, or coloring, I set it playing in the background. There are a dizzying amount of facts, which is wonderful; only, don’t expect to retain everything. Enjoy the storytelling and development of rum and America. Don’t be afraid to tune out every so often if you get overwhelmed. Enjoy the descriptions, the background, and the stories of individual bars and drinks and people.

The element that excited me most, personally, was Curtis’ description of El Floridita in Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway used to sit frequently and order Daiquiris—now I really want to try one! That to say, keep your eyes and ears open for details you can file away for personal experience. If you’re young, or simply desire to expand your horizons in the drink sphere, give And a Bottle of Rum a listen. It covers other liquors as well, such as whiskey, bourbon, and tequila, as they interacted with rum. Overall, it’s a handy reference and colorful narrative on the development of an important facet of American culture and autonomy.

That’s about it for this review: Let me know in the comments what your favorite drink, alcoholic or not, is at the moment! And have a positive, light-filled day. 🙂 

“Tonight’s Gonna be a Good, Good Night”: Gaudy Night Review

“Tonight’s Gonna be a Good, Good Night”: Gaudy Night Review

Hello, book fans—hope y’all are doing well. This review is on Dorothy Sayers’s novel, Gaudy Night, which is part of her Peter Wimsey mystery series. This installment, set in 1935, centers not on detective Wimsey, but his love interest, Harriet Vane.

Harriet is a former student at Shrewsbury women’s college at Oxford. She returns to help solve a campus mystery that involves events from petty crimes up to personal assault. To catch the perp, Harriet not only has to grapple with an army of administrators (themselves also under suspicion), but also with her own feelings and thoughts on Oxford. The novel presents a classic psychological battle, personified uniquely, between head and heart. Sayers interweaves this dichotomy into 20th century debates about women’s proper roles to create compelling arguments on either side of the coin. Ultimately, Harriet makes a decision that involves emotion and intellect, though it’s not until the literal end of the book, which makes the suspense hold until the last page.

Sayers’ description of university campuses is beautiful. The one shortcoming I noticed is her lack of physical description of the characters. Numerous faculty because indistinguishable in my mind from one another. The story is dramatic and fun—not just intellectual; and there is also a love narrative, as well. Gaudy Night runs a little long, at 528 pages; still, it’s a relaxing read to take in several sessions. I give it 4.5/5 stars.

And now, for the favorite quotes section. Tell me in the comments what your favorite aspect of reading, or education in general, is!

(xii): “For, however realistic the background, the novelist’s only native country is Cloud-Cuckooland, where they do but jest, poison in jest: no offence in the world.”

(16): “‘It would have been such a bore to be the mother of morons, and it’s an absolute toss-up, isn’t it? If only one could invent them, like characters in books, it would be much more satisfactory to a well-regulated mind.’”

(38): “The moon was up, painting the buildings with cold washes of black and silver whose austerity rebuked the yellow gleam of lighted windows behind which old friends reunited still made merry with talk and laughter.”

(201): “I suppose one oughtn’t to marry anybody, unless one’s prepared to make him a full-time job.”

(255): “In the meanwhile she had got her mood onto paper—and this is the release that all writers, even the feeblest, seek for as men seek for love; and, having found it, they doze off happily into dreams and trouble their hearts no further.”

(340): “How fleeting are all human passions compared with the massive continuity of ducks.”

(389): “Into the horrified silence that followed, Peter dropped three words like lumps of ice.”  

Thanks for reading, guys! Have a good day. 🙂

“One King at a Time”: Live Love Lead Review

“One King at a Time”: Live Love Lead Review

Two and a half years ago, my boyfriend and his family generously bought me a ticket to go with them to the Hillsong concert in San Antonio (I still lived in Texas at the time). Brian Houston provided every single attendee with a copy of his book, Live Love Lead. So, on top of close seats at a beautiful Christian concert, I received a hardcover, glossy book filled with encouragement. Talk about feeling pumped!

Of course, I proceeded to let it sit on the shelf, with one or two attempted starts, until recently. Have I mentioned my TBR shelf is overweight and somewhat neglected? Anyway, I finished Brian Houston’s book yesterday and wanted to pop a review up.

I enjoyed Live Love Lead a lot. The format is appealing—chapters and subsections are short and full of personal stories. I didn’t previously know much about Houston and the history of Hillsong. In relating how they came to be the blessing they are, Houston’s tone is conversational. He remains humble, always pointing the credit back to God, which I found reassuring. In addition, his accounts are full of fitting verses and references to stories from God’s Word. The feel of this book is akin to sitting down with a new acquaintance over dinner or coffee. I really enjoyed that aspect.

Brian Houston gives the believer encouragement and advice on how to live as an overcomer in life, not a victim. His emphasis, both towards and for Christians, is one of grace, not condemnation. Pointing back to Jesus’ redemptive work, Houston reminds believers that we live under the power and permission of His name, not our own. He spurs us to focus on what we have—what we can do—and to let go of what we don’t control.

One aspect of his voice I really appreciate is the fact that, as a positive believer who emphasizes victory, Houston doesn’t subsequently discredit the promised existence of pain. The Christian life, he empathizes, is filled with harrowing hurt and trial. It’s how we handle them that showcases our faith and glorifies God. The fact that these struggles are tangible and exhausting is something to which Houston personally attests. He connects with the hurting, those who have lost significantly, and shares private stories of feeling overspent. Live Love Lead isn’t a cheesy mantra of a book, but a genuine connection among people walking through the same mixed bag that is the Christian life (or looking into it, for that matter).

If there’s one suggestion for improvement I could offer, it would be the overall organization of the book. If you’re looking for practical application, that’s not really Houston’s shtick in this volume—he’s more focused on uplifting than offering 15 points. What I didn’t love is that some of the lines ring somewhat cliché, and some are repeated in different areas of the book. I would concentrate the concepts, and eliminate the excesses. Again, that’s just me. Overall, I enjoyed it remarkably. As proof of that, it’s time for Hannah’s Favorite Quotes (I really need a theme song for that!) Here we go:

27: “The abundant life Jesus came to bring us frees us from the confines of culture, competition, and comparison.”

37: “You see, it is easy to fill your mind with what you do not have and lose sight of what God can do with what you do have.”

84: “Although my God is all-powerful, I am not. My body, mind, and spirit have limits.”

86: “I myself have learned to recognize and acknowledge the process of pain, and I’ve learned to cooperate with the answer rather than remain a victim to the problem.”

172: “Every field has its pioneers who dedicate their lives and careers to innovation and experimentation. It might be in a laboratory or on a laptop, in outer space or an inner office. It’s the commitment to be the best you can be at what you’re called to do.”

180: “Individual success is an illusion; anyone who claims sole credit for the successes of life allows pride to deceive them.”

199: “Faith is the answer, and robust and ready faith is the key. Because the only way to defeat thirty-one kings is one at a time.” [This is perhaps the quote that personally stood out to me most in the entire book! I love it. It’s applicable to so many battles!]

204: “What is the enemy trying to steal from you to impede your relationship with God?”

All right, guys. Feedback time: For my Christian readers, what’s the best faith book you’ve read lately? For those of you who aren’t, what’s a good, “real life” motivational book, and why?

Thanks for reading! Have a blessed day. ❤

“Gold MacGuffin”: The Maltese Falcon Review

“Gold MacGuffin”: The Maltese Falcon Review

This semester, my university’s English seminar course is Detective Fiction. We’re learning background information on the genre as we delve into detective works. Our first title is Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel, The Maltese Falcon. I really enjoyed this book as an introduction to the group; here’s the recap: 

Private detective Sam Spade is approached by a slew of mysterious characters with various loyalties, all in pursuit of a historical treasure. There’s murder, gunfights, and break-ins; perhaps the most enjoyable facet of the mystery is attempting to unravel the motivations of Spade himself. Spade is an enigma: his appearance, mannerisms, and words conceal much of his character. In class discussion, we reflected on how memorable, intriguing characters render stories timeless. This definitely rings true in The Maltese Falcon.

World-building and detail is conveyed in a fashion befitting an inspector being the central voice of the novel. There are lots of physical descriptions, and not a ton of “telling.” I found this refreshing. Hammett utilizes sparse description without venturing into Hemingway territory; he adds a bit more flesh and color to his characters and the San Francisco setting. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

3: “He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”

19: “It’s a long while since I burst out crying because policemen didn’t like me.”

22: “Spade looked at the lieutenant with yellow-gray eyes that held an almost exaggerated amount of candor.”

28: “‘You’re an angel,’ he said tenderly through smoke. ‘a nice rattle-brained angel.’”

46: “His skin was the complexion of polished lead except where the elbow had reddened his cheek.”

94: “The boy spoke two words, the first a short guttural verb, the second, ‘you.’” [I just think this is such a creative and classy way to include swearing in a story. I’ve never seen it done this way, and I found it really amusing and clever.]

104: “As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown.”

174: “His dark eyes had the surface shine of lacquer.”

It’s not a long read, landing around 200 pages. If you’re like me and you’ve never explored mysteries or detective fiction enough to develop a liking for it, this is a good entry point. Of course, there are always the short stories—Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s—as well.

Have you ever read a detective fiction piece that stood out to you? Let me know in the comments. 🙂 

“Scholarship or Insurrection?” Think Review (Audiobook)

“Scholarship or Insurrection?” Think Review (Audiobook)

Preacher, author, and theologian John Piper addresses a contemporary issue in the Body of Christ’s view on intellectualism in his 2010 book. Titled Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, Piper’s work calls for Christians to embrace the kind of thinking Jesus encouraged: that is, a balance between deep thought and pursuing God-revealed truth. The problem, Piper notes, is that Christ followers tend to lean one of two ways on the spectrum. Either we elevate human intellectual achievement too highly, or we rely on mystic, spiritual experience for our revelation of God.

To illustrate his point, Piper’s book is both filled with appeals to logic and packed with Scripture. Using two principle verses, 2 Timothy 2:7 and Proverbs 2:1-6, he points out that finding truth results from two elements coupled together: our ardent seeking, and God’s benevolent giving of the truths we’re powerless to discover as finite beings. He concludes: education is not for our personal prowess or pride, but for the purpose of more fully knowing and worshipping God, as well as subsequently loving others.

This book is enjoyable to listen to: the audiobook is read by Wayne Shepherd, who does a superb job. I had it on 1.25X speed and still understood every word. Additionally, the chapters aren’t too long. Listening to Piper talk, I felt wonder at the concept of my mind and consciousness. He reminds readers what miracles our brains are: so finely-tuned and complex, these created machines of ours.

The only downside I would point out would be that, given the deep theological nature of his writing, the text at times began to feel dense, a bit repetitive, and long. For instance, Piper refutes several important arguments, which occupy most of his second half, and at times feel a bit distant from his main point. However, that could simply be my personal preference.

Overall, Think was beneficial and positively convicting for me. A lot of times, I can slip into the trap of feeling haughty because of my education level or experience with the Word. Piper reminded me that that’s not Christ’s intention for His followers at all. It was refreshing to hear him call out believers to be loving and embrace continued learning at the same time.

If you’re looking for an intellectual challenge, whether you’re a believer in Christ or not, I would encourage you to give Think a try. Do consider taking it in four-ish doses, which I didn’t, for your mental stamina’s sake. To whet your appetite a bit, here are some of my favorite quotes.

What’s your favorite spiritual or intellectual read?

I hope you guys have a good week.

Quotes:

“I would like to encourage you to think, but not be too impressed with yourself when you do.”

“If all the universe and everything in it exist by the design of an infinite personal God, to make his manifold glory known and loved, then to treat any subject without reverence to God’s glory is not scholarship, but insurrection.”  

“We are meant to know that the Gospel is true and that we are saved—not cross our fingers.”

“Relativism cloaks pride with the guise of humility.”

“Not thinking is no solution for thinking arrogantly.”  

[Quoted from Norval Geldenhuys]“The contrast pointed out by the Savior is not that between educated and uneducated, but between those who imagine themselves to be wise and sensible, and want to test the Gospel truths by their own intellects, and to pronounce judgment according to their self-formed ideas, and those who live under the profound impression that by their own insight and their own reasoning, they are utterly powerless to understand the truths of God, and to accept them.”

“Knowing and thinking exist for the sake of love, for the sake of building people up in faith.” 

“The Bachelor(ette), Round 2”: The Crown Review

“The Bachelor(ette), Round 2”: The Crown Review

Ah, the enjoyment of returning to YA reads after heavy doses of intellectual literature. The pages fly faster, and it’s good morale for meeting those Goodreads reading goals. Plus, lighthearted love stories are simply fun. While I enjoyed Kiera Cass’s original Selection trilogy, the last two books in the series (#4 and #5) didn’t appeal to me as much. Here’s why.

America Schreave has become queen of Illéa (futuristic, monarchical America, to catch anyone up who needs. And yes, America is a girl’s name). Her daughter, Eadlyn, is the focus of the last two installments. She’s of age to marry, and is the first princess to hold her own Selection (basically, it’s been The Bachelor exclusively, until this point). To add to that, the country doesn’t love Eadlyn, and she’s putting pressure on herself to pick the right man for the sake of appearances. She also wants to be perceived personally as empathetic to her people, given that she’s pretty intimidating.

I feel the quality of Heir and The Crown dropped noticeably from the original trilogy. While reading YA romance entails some cliché lines and stereotypical aspects of relationship-building, I found The Crown a bit too packed with these for my taste. Eadlyn ends up choosing a man whom, for the majority of the process, she didn’t notice that much. Their relationship explodes in a matter of days. They don’t fall in love from spending ample time together, but from a series of enlightening moments. The dialogue was fairly weak in places, and several scenes felt tailored in terms of time to fit what Cass needed. For example, after having a heart attack, Eadlyn’s mother wakes and summons her children to see her. They have a conversation that lasts less than five minutes before husband/king Maxon orders the kids back to their daily routines to let Mom recover. Eadlyn’s been agonizing over her mother’s wellbeing for days, and this is the only interaction they get now? I thought that was strange. Another instance comes near the end, when Eadlyn is torn between two choices and is out of time to decide. Her mother makes a comment that’s essentially, “I hope you figure it out and do what you truly want,” before leaving her. I feel like a mother would want to be of more help than that in such a life-altering crises; but hey. Who knows…? (Rhetorical, of course: come on, America).

Another aspect of the novel that I didn’t understand was the abundance of palace characters. It’s not that having a large cast for a kingdom-oriented story isn’t feasible. But our glimpses of side characters shift so often, and are so limited, that the reader has a hard time connecting to them. If Cass downsized and zeroed in on a few (especially given the fact that we have five or six suitors to get to know as Eadlyn narrows the men down), they would have been more effective. As it was, I found myself trying to recall faces behind names that popped up throughout her story. It’s been a while since I read Heir; so perhaps that’s part of it.

Lastly, and I know this is another facet of YA romance at times, I found the stakes for Eadlyn to be exaggerated. There’s drama going on with her as ruler, attempted sabotages, and the question of who she’ll pick; yet, without giving too much away, these problems seem to be exacerbated for the sake of suspense. Eadlyn convinces herself that the people’s opinion needs to imprison her in terms of choosing a husband; in terms of squelching threats; and as it ties into her personal self-image. Her parents might have emphasized to her that she had more agency; however, she does take leaps of her own volition that drastically reorder society (of course, without consulting any the people in place to help her with these things). So I’m not sure what I think of Eadlyn. She seems to wield more power than a teenager should, without possessing a solid identity. This makes her intriguing, but hard to get behind.

All that being said, the enjoyment of YA literature sometimes comes in sitting back and letting go of your writerly senses: rooting for a certain contestant until they are eliminated (yep, definitely happened). I like light reads, and this one is entertaining despite possessing potential for improvement. That being said, I would give it about 2.5/5 stars in terms of quality, and 3 for entertainment value. If you’ve started the Selection series, you might as well complete it to see how Cass wraps everything up in the world of Illéa. And if you haven’t started it, why not take a crack at it and see if you enjoy it?

What’s your favorite YA read/series at the moment?  

“Less Talk, More Smiles”: The Hamilton Affair Review

“Less Talk, More Smiles”: The Hamilton Affair Review

After digesting over 1100 pages of Hamilton-related content, I believe this will be my last book review related to the treasury secretary for a while. However, I did receive a beautiful copy of The Revolution for Christmas, which covers the making of the musical; so I may continue being a paper snowflake fan after all. We’ll see.

Elizabeth Cobbs, author of The Hamilton Affair, is a historian and novelist, among other accomplishments. Her novel personalizes events from the lives of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, revolving around their relationship and the factors that influenced it. It’s 400 pages exactly, which is a notable undertaking. Still, it’s a doable slice of pie next to Chernow’s 700-page biography (read my review of Chernow’s work here). That being said, here are some of the good and bad attributes of this novel.

First, The Hamilton Affair has a beautiful, shimmering cover and text that’s enjoyable to look at and read. The story contains creative imagery of places such as New York and the countryside in which Eliza grows up. Characters are developed well: Cobbs gives tasteful hints throughout the story as to Alexander’s and Eliza’s personalities, foreshadowing later developments. At the end of the novel, I had a consistent, satisfying picture of realistic characters. The chemistry and fondness between the Hamiltons felt charmingly tangible, as well. One of my favorite aspects of the story is how Cobbs surrounds her figures with a slew of spot-on details. She weaves historical events in seamlessly, making her characters come to life. She’s able to flesh out landmark moments in American history by viewing them through Alexander’s and Eliza’s eyes, which I found intriguing.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

22: “The spring twilight had just started to gather, turning the rushing current of the wide river the color of dark plums.”

31: “On the gentle hillside she would hear the boom of the surf on the island’s clean sand and no one could ever again insult her honor in ways that sent a dagger through his heart.”

67: “Purple lilacs sweetened the air of sunrise, though Alexander barely saw them as he walked along the Hudson two years after his first breakfast in New York.”

98: “Alexander opened his eyes and dug stubbornly into the stew. Chunks of beef glistened among the cabbage and potatoes.”

144: “When Aunt Gertrude invited her to visit, Eliza knew it would bring her into the constellation of bachelors orbiting George Washington.”

333: “The Bible helped tamp down sorrow, anger, shame, and fear as the leafy shoreline slipped by. Just read, she thought, forcing herself to find meaning in characters that spilled like rice across the page.”

385: “The morning air was crisp. He drew in a deep breath as he reached the end of the forest trail, stepped into the clearing, and looked out upon the wide river and uninhabited shore opposite. Pink clouds streaked the crystalline sky.”

Next, I’m going to talk about some of the reasons why, for me, this book deserves a rating of about 3-3.5/5 stars. There were some elements that turned me off. These include an abundance of “telling,” which is something I mention fairly frequently in my reviews. Things that could have been spoken, shown, or left out instead interrupted the action in The Hamilton Affair. Many conversations are interspersed with background information to catch up the reader (chapters jump ahead years at a time, which is another facet of the story that renders the action a bit choppy). These intrusions feel awkward. For a short example of telling, on pg. 325, young Philip Hamilton makes an appearance. The narrator states, “Philip picked up a calico sleeping under the tall sash and sat down again. He had inherited his mother’s fondness for animals.” While reading, I felt that the second sentence wasn’t necessary to my understanding, and is fairly implied in the first.

Another major factor I disliked was the existence of quite a few racy lines or scenes. Don’t get me wrong: this is nowhere near other literature of our time. And while physical intimacy is a major part of the Hamiltons’ relationship, the blatant nature of some passages struck me as surprising and unnecessary. Simply a step too far.

Lastly, this is a minor issue, because, for the most part, Cobbs handles Eliza’s (and Alexander’s) faith lives well. When Eliza learns of the Reynolds affair, she turns to Scripture for comfort. Cobbs also includes Alexander’s dying reminder to Eliza that she is “a Christian,” to encourage her to be strong. On the last page, however, I ran across something that troubled me a bit. Elderly Eliza is reflecting on Alexander’s legacy and eternal destination: “It comforted Eliza that Alexander had atoned for his own mistakes years before, even though it flayed her pride at the time. She knew she would find her husband in Heaven. His sacrifices and generosity—his mercy toward even Burr—far outweighed his sins.” This threw up a little red flag in my mind. Christianity is founded upon the conviction that man cannot atone for his own sins, but requires the blood of Christ to render him righteous. In fact, the idea of “good outweighing bad” is directly opposed to the new covenant brought about by the resurrection. Eliza would have known her husband’s eternal dwelling with God wasn’t due to his own actions but rather the grace of God Himself. Again, in the scheme of the book, this is a minor detail; but faith is presented as a remarkable asset of Eliza’s identity throughout the novel. I thought it was worth noting.

In closing, I’d recommend a work like this to anyone who doesn’t have the time or motivation to complete something as imposing as the Chernow biography of Hamilton. In my opinion, Chernow’s work is superb; however, not everyone has that kind of time. Pick up something a bit lighter, like The Hamilton Affair, if you enjoy fiction more, and want a quicker course on the life of one of the hottest figures in pop culture at the moment.

Has anyone else read this novel? What are you guys reading right now? I hope you have a good day. 🙂