Book Reviews: “Proof” & “Dial M for Merlot”

I must be the most frustrating book reviewer in the world.  When I agree to review a book relevant to food and wine enthusiasts, the publicist sends me a promotional copy.  And then… they wait.  Sometimes for quite a while. Because I have two habits that virtually guarantee my review will miss the critical 6-8 week period following release:

  1. I read the entire book .  Most reviewers see this behavior as inefficient. Farcical, even. But a fair review requires an understanding of the book’s gestalt, not just a skim of a few pages.  Besides, if I struggle to finish the book in a timely manner it usually means other readers will too.
  2. I don’t enjoy publishing bad reviews.  I know how difficult it is to craft a compelling story and tell it in an engaging manner. But a desire to caution readers from investing time and money on a book they may not enjoy eventually means the review gets publish.

I apologize to the publicists for being so late to the party.

Dial M for Merlot, by Howard K

20141207_161416This is the first effort from author “Howard K”, who spins an interesting tale.  But sadly, that tale was told via the prose of a novice author employing metaphors so clumsy they were sometimes painful to read. In addition, Mr. K uses a rather liberal hand in sprinkling gratuitous sex throughout his story, with female characters that seem to have sprung from one of Ian Fleming’s old James Bond series – fun, pretty baubles to adorn a male protagonist.

And finally, Mr. K requires the reader to suspend belief and accept the absurdity that a virgin computer nerd / Star Trek enthusiast without any interest in fine wine or food, can transmogrify into an expert wine taster and womanizer within a few short months.

That said, by making his protagonist a wine novice, Howard K has a convenient reason for diving into some substantial details about wine, and doing so without ever making his story seem like a dry reference piece.  It is a great conceit for leading the general public to a greater appreciation of this ancient and noble beverage.  In addition, he has woven a story of intrigue, in fact one that I think could be easily adapted to the big screen.   The story line is engaging despite the author’s shortcomings as a writer, which improve over the course of the book.  Quite dramatically, in fact.  

Which gives me hope that Howard K’s next book will be even better.  

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Proof – The Science of Booze – Adam Rogers

20141207_161429

Rogers’s book is just the opposite.  An experience writer (for Wired Magazine), he sprinkles his dry humor throughout this dry subject, well researched and supported with a 19-page notes section.  A book about booze being dry?  Well, yes and no.  The subject is near and dear to the heart of any fan of wine/beer/cocktails, but READING about yeast/distillation/fermentation and hangovers is about as engaging as reading a manual on good sex.  It’s more enjoyable to put down the book and actually partake.

That said, those willing to read through the tough parts will find many valuable nuggets as they mine this book for fun and useful information. The well-researched chapters don’t really flow in a cohesive narrative, but that also makes them easy to serve as stand-alone topics.  I confess to not reading this book in sequence, as my interest in yeast or sugar are not as great as those of Aging, Smell & Taste, or Body & Brain, each of which I found to be useful chapters.  I’ve taken notes for future classes and presentation from each of these chapters.  Valuable nuggets abound for those willing to do a little hard rock mining.

All in all, this is a book for which any enthusiast of wine/beer/spirits will gladly make room on their bookshelf.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Cheers! Dave

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