Book Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, by Raymond A. Villareal

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The moment I saw this book in someone’s ARC pile earlier in the year I made a mental note to get my hands on it for my Halloween reviews.  With a name like that how could I not? Officially released in June 2018, this is the debut novel of author Raymond A. Villareal.

The book opens as a young Center for Disease Control agent is sent to investigate a pair of unusual deaths in an Arizona border town, only to learn upon arrival that the corpses seem to have walked away.  The agent and her team soon realize they are at ground zero for the outbreak of a disease they call the NOBI virus, an affliction of the blood that effectively turns those affected into vampires. Dubbed “Gloamings,” this new group of people begin their struggle to win over the hearts and minds (not to mention blood) of humanity.  Extraordinarily well-funded and highly selective about expanding their ranks, the Gloamings work quickly to exert their influence in human society. Using a combination of social influencers and political bribes, their ambitions rapidly move away from mundane goals like access to basic services and protections under the American Disability Act into more nefarious criminal and world domination schemes.  The book tracks the progression of these endeavors through a series of POV chapters told from the perspective of the CDC agent who discovered the outbreak, the head of a FBI task force formed to investigate Gloaming criminal activity, and a Jesuit priest working to combat the Gloaming infiltration of the Catholic Church.

While I thought this book had an interesting premise and some amusing social satire, I ultimately found it falling a bit short of my expectations.  Although the characters and overall story were interesting enough, the flow of the book was a bit choppy. There was a sufficient amount of action and intrigue to keep things interesting, but the story as a whole lacked a cohesive context in which to place the events of each chapter.  With chapters skipping months at a time and only loosely connected to each other I was often left thinking “so what?” when seemingly major developments where either glossed over or abandoned shortly thereafter. Unfortunately that sentiment stuck with me upon finishing the book as well since it did not offer much in the way of resolution to the any of the main conflicts presented and stopped rather abruptly.  At the end of its 400+ pages, I was left feeling that story just kind of rambled on without really going anywhere.

Similarly, the questions raised regarding civil rights for Gloamings, a key advertising point and a central theme of the earlier chapters, were non-starters for me as well.  The reader is never given a clear view of the social dynamics at play in this world and most of the insights into the causes being taken up were presented through dry court documents that were far too easy to skip over.  Since we were never introduced to any even remotely sympathetic or everyday Gloaming characters, the issues they were pushing for seemed inconsistent with what we were told about their secretive and elitist population.

Despite my misgivings, I did stick through with this to the end since more often than not the chapters were intriguing enough as standalone adventures and I was stubbornly holding out hope for some sort of big payoff or revelation.  I don’t know if perhaps my expectations were out of line for what the book was, but I ultimately felt neutral/bordering on disappointed about this one. I can’t say that I’d recommend it, but if you’re intrigued I wouldn’t warn you off it either.

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Ballast Point Brewing Company – Sour Wench

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Now that we’ve slipped past the month’s halfway point, I’ve set aside my fall seasonals to start focusing on brews that either by name or design are a bit more Halloween-centric.  My first of the season was an impulse supermarket pickup, because after all my troubles finding appropriate beers last year I didn’t want to miss any opportunities for suitable material.

Beer Name: Sour Wench

Brewery: Ballast Point Brewing Company (San Diego, CA)

Style: Blackberry Ale

ABV: 7.0%

Description: Per the brewery website, this kettle soured Berliner-Weisse style brew was made to be an approachable sour ale bursting with blackberries.

Appearance: It had a deep reddish-purple body with a bubbly off-white head.

Smell: Tart blackberries with a hint of yeast in the background.

Taste: Tart berries were the predominant flavor throughout, with a creamy, yeasty ending.

Mouthfeel: On the thinner side with a slightly elevated level of carbonation.

Hype: It was certainly displayed rather prominently in the grocery store aisles, but I don’t think there is much hype among the beer folk for this one.

Overall: Was pretty light and refreshing on the whole, to the point I was surprised to see the ABV.  Nice pick up, especially considering where I found it.

River Styx Brewing – Fitchburg, MA

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Located about an hour west of BeerRantsandBooks headquarters, River Styx Brewing opened up a little over a year ago in summer 2017.  With Halloween now in the air and a pressing need to break up a long car ride, the family and I made a stop here the weekend before last on the way home from visiting some friends so ifinaI fi had a chance to check this place out.

The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was that the brewery’s aesthetics were cool as, um, hell.  Visitors are directed to the front doors by the sign of Charon above, beckoning thirsty travellers to step inside.  The doors open up to reveal a large open space (think function hall) with a number of small black tables spread about.  This part of the brewery was dark (at least in the evening) and lit almost exclusively by a sea of small hanging lanterns that gave off a flickering effect.  Adding to the scene were walls covered with artwork and murals inspired by the mythical river. The bar area was in the back right of the building and was more traditionally lit.  It had a decent number of stools for those who like to stay close to the taps and a small TV unobtrusively tuned into the featured sportsball broadcast of the day. The music was a touch on the loud side, but otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable mix of classic and late-90s radio rock with a little bit of Coolio thrown in for good measure.  One of the biggest draws for us in visiting, however, was the brewery’s policy of explicitly welcoming families (read kids) and well-behaved dogs. People definitely seemed to take advantage of this and my son had himself a great time playing with some giant wooden blocks and oversized checkers with another toddler that happened to be there.  It’s at this point that I need to give another shout-out to my amazing (and non-beer drinking) wife for not only supporting this crazy hobby of mine, but for also keeping an eye on playtime while I took notes for this post.

To make the most of my visit, I ordered a flight of 6 samples.  It cost $15 and was served in a nifty little iron boat carrier that really added to the ambiance.  There was a pretty good mix of styles available, so I tried to mix it up as best I could while hitting some of personal interest as well.  I started off on the lighter end of things with Nectar of Aristaeus – Blueberry Glazed Donut, a 6.0% “milkshake-style” IPA brewed with blueberries, lactose, and vanilla beans that  in the dark lighting had a bloody looking deep reddish-purple body. It had a light, juicy taste with an edge of tart blueberries and creaminess that flowed into a mild mix of earthy hops and malt on the finish that made a strong first impression.  Up next was Helios the Sun God, a 5.3% Farmhouse Ale conditioned with peaches that poured to a clear, golden body.  It had a refreshing, lightly funky and peppery taste highlighted by peach notes that peaked upon the brew’s bubbly finish.  Rounding out the first half of my flight was another 5.3% offering, this one a Sour Ale named Dawn of Hyperion.  It had a glowing amber body and a taste that featured tart strawberries with a lemon rind sourness atop a roasty tasting malt base.  I was not a fan of this one and am going to call it a miss for me.

At this point I switched over to the other side of the boat where the bigger beers were lurking.  First up was HOP, a cask conditioned West Coast-style double IPA brewed with pomegranate.  Checking in at 9.0%, it poured a deep reddish-brown body and had a very nice base of both caramel and ever-so-slightly toasted malts underneath an aggressively dank and resinous haze of piney hops.  It finished with a lingering blend of caramel malt, raw brown sugar, and hop resin that put this in the running for my favorite beer of the flight. In close contention, however, was the next beer named Ares God of War.  A big, bold 12% imperial stout it brought on huge notes of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla.  My nitpick is that I wish it had a slightly thicker body, but on the whole I was pretty impressed with this one as well.  The final sample of the day was an 11.0% port barrel aged imperial stout named Rhea Darkness.  Super smooth with a big, creamy dark malt profile I was amazed at how easy drinking this was for such a large beer.

Put all that together and I am happy to report that my visit here was a success and good time was had by all!  The novelty of the really cool decor and mythological themes were backed up by some good beer, making this a place I am definitely interested in revisiting this winter, especially since it was so welcoming to everyone in my crew. Definitely check this place out if you get a chance.

 

Hofbrauhaus Munchen – Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier

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Here we go with my final Marzen review of the fall.  This one appropriately comes from a German brewer, so I am ending things with a certain air of authenticity.

Beer Name: Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier

Brewery: Hofbrauhaus Munchen (Munich, Germany)

Style: Marzen

ABV: 6.3%

Description: A festive lager brewed to help drinkers celebrate the spirit of Oktoberfest wherever they live.  Read up on the details here.

Appearance: Poured a clear, pale yellow/golden body with about a half finger of white foam on the top.

Smell: Light crackery malts, with maybe a little hint of underlying sweetness.

Taste:  Very clean tasting, with a light sweet malt presence complemented by earthy noble hops.  The ending had an equally mild dry, toasted malty ending that took on a bit of creaminess after sitting a few minutes.

Mouthfeel: Started out with an elevated amount of carbonation that gradually tapered off through the course of the sip.  Medium bodied.

Hype: None I guess.  I am glad to get at least one German brewed Marzen into this year’s lineup though.

Overall: A very nice mild, easy drinking fall brew.  If there was ever something that seemed like it be right at home in large stein on a cool fall day, this is it.

 

Sierra Nevada – Oktoberfest (2018)

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My plan for the remainder of this week is to check in with a final pair of Marzens before I begin transitioning into my Halloween celebration.  I happened upon my final selections in the mix-a-six section at one of my local stores.

Beer Name: Oktoberfest (2018)

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, CA) with Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan (Bavaria, Germany)

Style: Marzen

ABV: 6.0%

Description: Partnering with “the world’s oldest brewery,” the brewers at Sierra Nevada set out to put an “American take” on the classic style.  You can get the full specs here.

Appearance: Poured a clear, light copper body with a quick to fizzle thin white head.

Smell: Sweet malts with a peppery blend of floral yeast and clean noble hops on the finish.

Taste: Started on with sweet caramel malts before turning towards more crackery notes mid-sip.  The finish went back to sweeter side of things, with notes of brown sugar, caramel malt and a clean, mild hop presence.  

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with an elevated amount of carbonation.

Hype: Despite being readily available at stores across the country, there was a little bit of excitement around this release.  Sierra Nevada’s annual Oktoberfest release has been very well received in recent years and people were really interested to see how their pairing with Weihenstephan would turn out.

Overall: I thought this was really good.  The malt profile was intriguing and a little bit different than what I’d grown accustomed to after drinking this style the past few weeks.  Definitely a worthwhile pick up for a fall gathering.

Idle Hands Craft Ales – Brocktoberfest

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My celebration of the fall season continues with a seasonal release from my neighbors at Idle Hands.  Nothing like a nice Marzen to get you into the fall spirit!

Beer Name: Brocktoberfest

Brewery: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden, MA)

Style: Marzen

ABV: 5.6%

Description: The brewery’s take on s traditional Oktoberfest lager brewed to showcase a complex malt profile.  

Appearance: It had a clean, clear copper body with plenty of little bubbles running up the glass.  A full, foamy head and full foamy white head formed with the pour that gradually fizzed down a thin coating across the top of the glass.

Smell: Malty, with sweeter malts edging out toasted ones for prominence

Taste: Light caramel malts to start, followed by a bready toasted malt base.  Beneath both of those was a creamy smoothness that mixed and mingled these two malt profiles throughout.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a roughly moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: Seasonal festivities aside, there was not really any particular hype over this one.

Overall: Subtle and highly drinkable, I enjoyed this one a lot   Luckily for me I happened to have an extra-large can of it!

Book Review: Shotguns v. Cthulhu, Edited by Robin D. Laws

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I’m starting off my Halloween reading season with a collection of 15 short stories based on the Cthulhu Mythos of famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.  Published in 2013 and happily distanced from Lovecraft’s controversial, read flat-out deplorable, views on race, these stories present a diverse mix of characters in a wide variety of settings.  Although each author’s style is distinctly their own, all these stories share the common themes of “play[ing] with the action side of Lovecraft’s writing” and more often than not dwell on the psychological effects of the human characters encountering all manner of bizarre creatures and/or coming to face ageless, eternal evil.

As with any collection there were some stories I liked more than others, though I will say that they were all consistently strong.  I’m not very well versed in this genre, but every single author in this volume was able to hold my attention and interest throughout their story.  In the interest of time and space, I’ll share here my top five from the collection (in no particular order):

Old Wave, by Rob Heinsoo

Told from the perspective of an indigenous man, the story opens as the he and other prominent members of his tribe set off in their canoes to visit a nearby village.  Upon arrival, though, something seems off to him. The others seem not to notice, but the meat served from the unexpectedly large shellfish tastes wrong and the once familiar ancestral songs have changed and become almost unrecognizable.  Is he going insane or are there greater forces at play?

Lithic, by Dennis Detwiller

A college student returns to his sleepy Vermont hometown for winter break and takes a job working as a security guard.  He is assigned the night watch at a new ski slope being built on a mountain that previously served as a hangout and party spot for the local high school students.  It’s terrain with which the man was once intimately familiar, but something now feels very wrong and his connection to reality is fading.

Snack Time, by Chris Lackey

A laboratory researcher being stalked through the streets of present day Los Angeles by a Hound of Tindalos, a foul, time traveling predator, makes his last stand in a Chinese food/donut shop.  With the creature methodically killing everyone around him, he will need to act fast if he wants to escape alive.

Last Things Last, by A. Scott Glancy

A detective story in which a young woman recently recruited into an occult investigation unit is paired with a seasoned veteran.  Their assignment is to clear the house of a recently deceased former operative to make sure he didn’t leave behind any evidence of his occupation.  This seemingly easy assignment takes a turn, however, when it becomes apparent that the man took on a rather unconventional hobby after retirement.

The One in the Swamp, by Natani Barron

Monster hunting sisters Lydia and Cassandra stumble into a Georgia swamp and work with the locals to try to clear the evil presence preying upon the community.  Upon confronting the creature, however, one of them harbors serious doubts about what the real enemy may be.

Berkshire Brewing Company – Life of Marzen (Cask)

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And now for the rare instance in which I review a beer I had out in the field.  My wife and I made an impromptu trip to Redbones BBQ in Somerville, MA the other day and after a quick scan of the taplist this offering jumped immediately to my attention.  Not only was it on theme with my posting lineup this month, but it offered a great chance to start getting back into cask beer as well!

Beer Name: Life on Marzen (Cask)

Brewery: Berkshire Brewing Company (South Deerfield, MA)

Style: Marzen

ABV: 6.8%

Description: Listed a traditional Marzen-style lager brewed with German hops and yeast.

Appearance: Clean copper body with a thin off-white head covering the top of the glass.

Smell: Sweet lightly toasted malt.

Taste: Smooth, creamy notes of caramel and toasted malts with a mild noble hop finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium, smooth body very minimal carbonation.

Hype: I was eager to try this out, but I don’t think there’s really much buzz about this beer

Overall: I really enjoyed this.  It offered up a very tasty blend of malts and was an amazingly.  It also was an excellent companion to my huge plate of barbecue meat as well!

It’s October!

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Happy October everyone!  Fall is officially in the air and the countdown to Halloween is rapidly winding down.  The BeerRantsAndBooks family is very excited by these happenings and I am gearing up to celebrate in style!  All month I’m to be getting into the spirit of the season by sharing the spooky stories I’ve been reading and reviewing a number of seasonal and Halloween-themed brews.  This is one of my favorite times of the year and I’m really looking forward to sharing my fall adventures. Stay tuned!

Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss (Book Two in the Kingkiller Chronicle)

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Not wasting any time, I jumped into this story immediately upon finishing the first book in the series.  The downside to my eagerness, however, is that now I don’t have anywhere to go from here. The third and final book has been eagerly anticipated by fans for several years now, though the author seems to be content to take his time in publishing it.  

This book picks up the morning after the previous one ends and sees Kvothe resume his tale for the Chronicler.  In this installment of the story Kvothe is once again on the move. Forced to take a leave of absence from the University, he travels to the court of Maer Alveron, a wealthy lord who may have interest in becoming Kvothe’s patron.  The Maer, however, is a suspicious and fickle man who maneuvers Kvothe into performing a variety of demanding tasks while in his service. One task in particular serves to greatly expand the scope of this story, as it sets Kvothe off on adventure into the wilderness and begins a chain of events in which he not only spends time training in the fighting art of the feared Adem mercenaries, but also stumbles into the Fae realm where we gets a rather different perspective of the world.

As with the first book, I really loved the overall story and the world that contains it, but felt the narrative occasionally stumbled in regard to pacing and continued to get bogged down in places it should have moved on from sooner.  In particular I thought a little too much time was spent on Kvothe’s, um, dalliances with Felurian in the Fae realm and in providing long lists of fighting poses that the reader is never really fully introduced to. Also, though I found this more intriguing than off-putting, I don’t know that I liked the main characters all that much in this time around.  Kvothe came off as brash, hot-headed, and selfish (though perhaps his older self would agree with this assessment) while Denna made some really suspect choices of her own that made me question both her judgement and trustworthiness (more on this later). Despite these criticisms, however, the story as whole has managed to get even more interesting to me. It was fascinating to watch the world expand and I can’t wait to finally find out what’s happening in the present day.  I need to know!

Since I now have an indeterminate amount of time to contemplate the next novel, I want to ponder a few of my nagging questions.  I haven’t read up on any fan theories yet, so apologies if these seem obvious or off the mark to anyone more familiar with this world.  As a warning, I am going into spoiler territory now, so if you haven’t read the book yet, now is a good time to step away.

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