Beer Review: Pretty Things American Darling

Beer: American Darling – Good Time Lager
Brewer: Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
Source: 22 oz. bottle, poured into a pint glass
Rating: *** (7.0 of 10)
Comments: Another beer from my new favorite local brewery.  It’s a lovely golden beer with a thick head, a grainy aroma, and tastes like a crisp pilsener with bready flavors and grassy hops.  After sipping the glass is lightly laced and the head sustains.  Lager is not my favorite style but this is lager done right.



Beer Review: High & Mighty Purity of Essence

Beer: Purity of Essence lager
Brewer: High & Mighty Beer Co.
Source: 650 ml bottle, poured in a pint glass
Rating: ** (6.8 of 10)
Comments: Lager is an ordinary beer, at least in the United States, and this tastes like an ordinary lager.  That’s no slight as it’s seemingly easy to make crappy lagers as our commercial brewers put forth.  It’s a golden beer with a thick, bubbly head.  The smell and taste are hoppy and plain, in a good way.  It gets a little sticky towards the end.  In the end, not a bad beer, but probably not one I’ll be coming back for.  Still, if you like lagers, check this one out.

Book Review: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway by Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll

Author: Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll
Title: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip
Publication Info: Fulcrum Publishing (2007)
ISBN: 9781555914516
Summary/Review: I’ve long been a fan of the art of Ray Troll who specializes in drawing realistic but whimsical representations of fish and prehistoric creatures.  This book is written by Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science who teams up with Troll for a fossil-gathering road trip through the Rocky Mountain states.  Johnson does a good job of balancing the roles and importance of academic and museum work with commercial diggers and fossil collectors, showing respect and admiration of all.  The journey detailed by Johnson visits many beautiful and awe-inspiring locations that are richly illustrated with Troll’s art and photographs.  It’s a great book for anyone interested in paleontology, travelogue, and popular art.

Recommended books: Planet Ocean: A Story of Life, the Sea, and Dancing to the Fossil Record by Bradford Matsen and Ray Troll
Rating: ****

Book Review: Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

Author: Jonah Lehrer
Title: Proust Was a Neuroscientist
Publication Info: Brilliance Audio on CD (2008)
ISBN: 9781423374206

Previously read by same author: How We Decide


This book explores the work of eight artists and how their art revealed truths about the human brain that would later be discovered through science.  A quick search of Google brings up several reviews that dismiss Lehrer’s work as “popular science” but I think they’re missing the point that readers can learn scientific concepts  through an artistic lens.  Of course, with my humanities background I’m biased to the idea that the arts have something to offer to scientific study.  The artists include Walt Whitman (feeling), George Eliot (malleability of the brain), Auguste Escoffier (taste), Marcel Proust (memory), Paul Cezanne (vision), Igor Stravinsky (music), Gertrude Stein (language), and Virginia Woolf (self).  The conclusion of the book is an appeal to end the artificial divide between arts and sciences that I strongly support.

Favorite Passages:

“Nature, however, writes astonishingly complicated prose. If our DNA has a literary equivalent, it’s Finnegan’s Wake.”

Recommended books: Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science–From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness by Alva Noë, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Author: Suzanne Collins
Title:  Mockingjay
Publication Info: New York : Scholastic Press, 2010.

Books Read By Same Author: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire

Summary/Review: The final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy is the strongest of the series.  The whole series is built on moral ambiguity and in this novel Katniss Everdeen finds herself among the revolutionaries in an austere and militaristic society.   She once again finds herself being used as a symbol for propaganda and uncertain who to trust.  Collins does a great job of detailing the unromantic truth of war and the ignoble motivations of those involved, even the “good guys.”
Related books: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson and The Dead Republic: A Novel by Roddy Doyle
Rating: ***

Book Review: The F-word by Jesse Sheidlower

Author: Jesse Sheidlower
Title: The F-word
Publication Info: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
ISBN: 9780195393118
Summary/Review: Not the book I expected.  I thought it was going to be a cultural history of the word “fuck” through history and various usages.  That was just the introduction which was pretty good.  The main body of this work is 269 page lexicon of different usages and phrases of the f-word.  It perhaps make a useful reference book, but definitely not something I’m going to read end to end.

Rating: **

Beer Review: Annie Schwartz Black Lager

Beer: Annie Schwartz Black Lager
Brewer:  Haverhill Brewery Inc.
Source: 22 oz. bottle poured into a pint glass
Rating: *** (7.2 of 10)
Comments: Haverhill’s German-style black lager is a dark mocha-colored beer with a frothy head. It gives off a dark chocolate scent with a burnt, chocolaty flavor. The mouthfeel is a bit thin with a nutty, malty finish and aftertaste. The head dissipates quickly and leaves no lacing. All and all a good beer, although it seems more suited to a crisp, cool day than the heat of summer.

Beer Review: Notch Saison

Beer: Notch Saison
Brewer: Notch Brewing
Source: 22 oz. bottle, poured in pint glass
Rating:  **(6.8 of 10)
Comments: Inspired by a style of beer once enjoyed by farm laborers, this beer is refreshing and goes down almost too easily on a beastly hot summer evening. The beer is a hazy, sunny orange with a slightly floral, hoppy aroma. The taste is simple and clean, a little spice and a little bubblegum but nothing too challenging for these temperatures. Definitely a great summer beer and a good reward for a hoeing a field.

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Latitude 48

Beer: Samuel Adams Latitude 48
Brewer: Boston Beer Co.
Source: 12 Fl. Oz.
Rating: *** (7.0 of 10)
Comments: It’s a pretty beer, copper-colored with a thick, yeasty head.  The scent is not strong, but there’s a whiff of sweet caramel and bready hops.  For a beer dedicated to hops (Latitude 48 is where many hops-growing regions fall around the world) it has a nice balance of sweet and bitter, with caramel & citrus preceding the hoppy aftertaste.  The head dissipates quickly with little lacing but the color is still attractive.  This is a good beer and a worthy addition to the craft of my local brewery.

Beer Review: Lagunitas Lucky 13 Mondo Large Red Ale

Beer: Lagunitas Lucky 13 Mondo Large Red Ale
Brewer: Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Source: 1 pint 6 fluid oz/ bottle
Rating: *** (7.5 of 10)
Comments: Gorgeous copper-colored beer with a thick, enduring head and good lacing.  The aroma is full of floral hops. The taste is a sticky, sweet caramel balanced by some hoppy goodness.  A lovely brew.

Book Review: Taking the Field by Howard Megdal

Author: Howard Megdal
Title: Taking the Field
Publication Info: Bloomsbury USA (2011)
ISBN: 9781608195794
Summary/Review: I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.  Mets fan and sports journalist Howard Megdal, frustrated by the mismanagement of his favorite team decides to take action by running for the office of Mets general manager.  The position is not an elected office of course, so this is a bit of a gag, but Megdal dutifully holds primaries on a number of Mets blogs.  I could have lived without the extensive details of the election campaign as it becomes obvious pretty early that  Megdal has great ideas about how to manage the Mets and that these ideas have a lot of support among Mets fans.  Luckily, alternate chapters contain Medgal’s actual analysis of how to run a ball club focusing on the Mets historically on their all too many bad transactions as well as the thought and planning that went in to building the championship teams of 1969 and 1986.  Megdal’s evaluation of the Mets past and present  is spot on as are his ideas for the future of the team.  I’d vote for him if I could but lucky for him Sandy Alderson took the job, so Megdal can focus on spending more time with the baby daughter he writes about lovingly throughout the book.

Recommended books: Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets by Greg Prince, Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark by Jim Bouton, and Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King

Author: Laurie R. King
Title: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen
Publication Info: Recorded Books (1994)
ISBN: 0788798782
Summary/Review:  This book is the first of a series in which Sherlock Holmes – “retired” to beekeeping in the country – meets the narrator/protagonist Mary Russell and takes her on as his apprentice.  Since Russell’s intelligence and powers of observation match Holmes the relationship seems to be missing something as they are both almost too perfect (King allows both her characters to make some mistakes to make them a little complementary).  Much of the early half of the book involves Russell’s long apprenticeship and training and drags.  There are a number of mysteries to solve and the novel becomes episodic as a result.  The conclusion actually tries to tie these mysteries together which doesn’t work for me.  I wanted to like this book but just found it a bit dull.  Still, I still see promise that maybe future installments could be better now that this backstory is filled in.

Recommended books: A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Martin Harry Greenberg, and Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon by Larry Millett
Rating: **1/2

Beer Review: Hell or High Watermelon

Beer: Hell or High Watermelon wheat beer
Brewer: 21st Amendment Brewery
Source: 12 fl. oz. can
Rating:  * (5.5 of 10)
Comments: The beer is a golden and cloudy without much of a head (especially for a “wheat” beer).  The scent and flavor of watermelon is strong but otherwise the beer tastes weak and watery.  It’s a good summer beer in the sense that it’s crisp and refreshing for a hot day.  The beer gets overly sweet toward the bottom of the glass and overall it’s not a well-rounded beer.  The design of the can is excellent though with an artistic representation of the Statue of Liberty resting on the Golden Gate Bridge (I guess she’s tired from walking across the country).

Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon & Green Roots Festival

On Sunday June 26th, my son Peter & I rode in the fundraiser Bike-A-Thon for Bikes Not Bombs.  We were able to raise $376 for this worthy cause (feel free to add to our donations).  All-together 464 riders raised over $135,000 to support the work of Bikes Not Bombs!

My photos are online and some other great photographs from a professional photographer are also available.

The 15-mile riders prepare to set out.
  • There were rides of 65-miles, 25-miles, and 15-miles in length.  We rode the shortest of these, the longest I could expect Peter  to stay still.
  • Riders were sent off with a “trumpet” blast played through a modified set of handlebars.
  • The PA system was powered by cyclists spinning on stationary bikes.
  • There were an impressive number of children riding on their own bikes on the 15-mile ride.
  • Some of the steepest hills were near the start of the ride challenging everyone especially the young children.
  • The first place I’d never been before was the Stony Brook Reservation which featured a bike path through the woods that felt miles away from the city.
  • The path rather gloriously zipped downhill, but wet pavement and downed leaves forced me to be cautious.
  • Near our rest break there were well-uniformed adults playing baseball.
  • We returned to urban Boston passing through the rusty but charming Hyde Park area.  The neighborhood was very quiet on a Sunday morning.
  • When I finally returned to parts of the city I’d been to before on Walk Hill Avenue, I didn’t recognize it at first.
  • Another new discovery is a corrections facility right behind Forest Hills Cemetery.  I live on the opposite side of the cemetery and never knew it was there.
  • In Franklin Park we saw men playing cricket in the field by the zoo.  We were not able to find a toilet or port-a-potty that was  open (several were chained shut) for when Peter really needed to pee.
  • At the finish of the ride we were awarded medals made of old bike parts! Mine was a chainring, Peter’s a brake lever.
  • The Green Roots Festival was a great follow-up to the ride (and very JP).
  • Free food for the riders, which was delicious – hummus, beans, salad.  Yum, yum, yum!
  • Musical entertainment include some great drummers.   Peter enjoyed that a band of bucket drummers had left their instruments out for children to play with.
  • Children of all ages enjoyed zipping down the hillside on potato sacks down a large strip of cardboard.  Peter spent most of the afternoon doing this.  There were no real rules other than that you had to get off the slide so as not to be in the way of the next slider.
  • Other activities we admired but didn’t participate in included yoga, face painting and massages.

Tired but happy we went home to cool off in the wading pool.  I had a great time and would love to do this ride again next year.  Come join me!

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Author: Harper Lee
Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Publication Info: Harper (2010), Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
ISBN: 0061743526
Summary/Review: With much joy and a little apprehension I returned to one of my Favorite Books of All Time after nearly 25 years.  It turned out to be better than I remembered.  It was interesting the details I remembered (Calpurnia not wanting to stay in the house with high ceilings on a cold night, Scout’s “Hey, Boo!” at the climax of the novel) as well as things I completely forgot (the cranky, old morphine addict Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra coming to live with the family).

The book is great on so many levels, most especially the joys and travails of childhood so accurately represented.  As a child I identified with the kids, but now I also am drawn to Atticus as he tries to raise his children as best he can and instill them with conscience.  Lee also does a great job creating a Southern town with its history, castes, and characters.  It all comes together in a brilliant period piece around the trial of a black man falsely accused.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book, so I’ll end here.  I’ll have to make a shorter wait before I read it again.

Recommended books: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Rating: *****

Book Review: The Pox and the Covenant by Tony Williams

Author: Tony Williams
Title: The Pox and the Covenant
Publication Info: Sourcebooks (2010)
ISBN:  9781402236051
Summary/Review: Another bit of research for my Boston By Foot Dark Side tour, this one discussing the history of the smallpox pandemic of 1721.  Cotton Mather, a religious conservative but also a man of science (and member of the Royal Society), responded by encouraging people to take inoculation with the only doctor willing to help him, Zabdiel Boylston.  Mather partially credited the practice to his African slave Onesimus once again showing himself a man ahead of his time as he both thought African medicine valid and gave credit where credit was due.  Mather faced much opposition both on superstitious and scientific grounds.  His most surprising opponent was the New England Courant published by Benjamin Franklin’s elder brother James whom one would assume would be on the side of reason and science.  Williams holds that the smallpox pandemic and the inoculation controversy was the death knell of the Puritan covenant and forever changed the culture of Boston.  He brings in lots of interesting details and facts of early 18th century Boston although at times it feels like he’s padding an already thin book.  Maybe this would hold together better as a long article rather than a book but I found it interesting and informative.

Recommended books: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson, Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill, and Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: Catching Fire
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2009)
ISBN:  0545101417

Books read by the same author: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Summary/Review: So I wanted to find out what happens next and couldn’t resist listening to the next book in The Hunger Games series.  It’s plagued by some of the same problems as the earlier book with weak prose (especially narrator/protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s interior debates) and thin characterization for some of the characters.  This especially hurts the first half of the book which is built around a love triangle that doesn’t work because neither of the indistinguishable boys is very interesting  (they both fit the Mary Sue trope).  There’s a lot of nitpicking I could do about this book but the plot kept me interested.  In the second half of the book by a trick of the evil President Snow, Katniss & Peeta are returned to the arena for another Hunger Games in kind of an all-star battle of the victors.  I thought this might be a cheap narrative trick but it  actually worked pretty well at developing the familiar characters as well as introducing interesting new characters.  The form of the arena is contrived but the response of the characters as they form an uneasy alliance is very interesting.  Yeah, I will read the conclusion too.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Underboss by Gerard Neill & Dick Lehr

Author: Gerard Neill & Dick Lehr
Title: The Underboss
Publication Info: New York : BBS PublicAffairs, 2002.
ISBN:  1586481088

Books read by same authors: Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob
Summary/Review: The FBI’s takedown of the Anguilo crime of family of Boston’s North End may be a shining moment in the history of the agency (bookended with their most shameful moment in the Whitey Bulger case which involved some of the same figures).  Neill & Lehr trace the rise of Gerry Angiulo in the mafia – or more accurately La Cosa Nostra – earning a position of prominence in Providence’s Patriarca crime family.  They also detail the trials and travails of Boston’s FBI team that after some errors were able to successfully able to bug Angiulo’s Office in the North End.  The story is detailed and well-researched focusing on the patience and innovation of the FBI against the hubris of Angiulo.  Another great addition to my knowledge base of Boston Dark Side history.

Recommended books: The Crime of the Century by Stephanie Schorow
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Crime of the Century by Stephanie Schorow

Author: Stephanie Schorow
Title: The Crime of the Century
Publication Info: Beverly, Mass. : Commonwealth Editions, c2008.
ISBN: 9781933212548
Summary/Review: The Boston Brink’s robbery of January 1950 is shrouded in folklore and embellishment (much of it from the criminals themselves) so Shorow sets out to separate fact from fiction in this accounting of the famous crime.  I didn’t know much of folklore myself but was greatly fascinated by the details of the true story.  For example, I never knew that the robbers broke into the Brink’s office multiple times and had keys made for all the doors between the office and the vaults!  The details that went into the planning of the crime are amazing and hard not to appreciate if not admire.  Schorow also notes that while the cash haul is huge the criminals actually missed out as there was usually more cash on hand on other nights.  While the crime is famed for having no shots fired and no one hurt, Shorow unearths the violence and bloodshed that came in the wake of the crime.  In all an entertaining, researched and informative read.

Recommended books: The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family by Gerard O’Neill, Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boserand Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo.
Rating: ***1/2