Book Shelves and Wine Racks – Fall 2020 Edition

There is absolutely nothing better than fall evenings with a blanket and a book. It’s simple, sheer perfection. This year more than ever, we need these little moments of peace and quiet to help bring us back into balance with our chaotic world. And there’s no greater balance to a good book than a good wine to go with it!

Try these pairings for a fall escape on your very own couch!

The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd

While I tend to run a little hot and cold on Sue Monk Kidd novels (loved The Secret Life of Bees, didn’t love The Mermaid Chair) I waited almost four months on libraries hold list for my turn with this one! A vivid retelling of the gospel story narrated by Ana, a fictionalization of Jesus’ wife, The Book of Longings is a beautiful reimagining of the life of Jesus prior to starting his ministry. A widow at age 15, Ana is a social outcast seeking to make her mark in a world determined to minimize and marginalize women. Her brother Judas, yes that Judas, is a revolutionary intent on overthrowing Roman rule, her father is a influential scribe in the palace court, and her mother is content to keep house and gossip among the other wealthy wives in the town, but Ana finds little purpose in any of the “useful” things she’s supposed to be doing, instead dreaming of becoming educated, writing, and giving a voice to the unsung women heroes of both the Old Testament stories and the world around her. After a young Jesus steals her heart and spares her from the cruelty of the palace guards, she settles into a quiet life in Nazareth with Mary and Jesus’ brothers; and when Jesus ministry begins in earnest and she finds herself separated from him for months and then years at a time, she finds herself seeking something bigger as well, an opportunity to raise her own voice and cement her own legacy for generations to come.

Wine pairing for your reading: It’s a shame how little wine is mentioned in this book as wine features heavily in the Bible, and Jesus first miracle, turning water into wine, is mentioned only in the abstract. It also seems short sighted to have already recommended Yarden from Golan Heights Winery as a Holy Land import. What you’ll want for this read is a “working man’s wine,” something as rich as Ana’s stories, but otherwise as approachable and common as the dust-clad characters that bring this novel to life. Try a glass of Sledgehammer Zinfandel, with it’s bold blackberry and raspberry “jaminess” tempered against smokey black pepper and toasted oak. Close your eyes and breath deeply into your glass after reading a scene like that in the bustling spice market or the lavish palace dinner party, and this wine might just transport you!

Maid – Stephanie Land

Here’s what I expected when I sat down with Stephanie Land’s memoir of her time working in housekeeping while raising her daughter as a single mother: a Maid in Manhattan style comedy about the awkward intimacies of cleaning houses and the crazy cast of characters that inhabit them. I, obviously, had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. Equal parts eye opening and heart breaking, Maid does, in fact, chronicle many of the houses Land cleans and people she meets, but those experiences are merely the backdrop to the bigger story of her struggle with poverty and her battle with the welfare and court system. Unable to work unless she can secure childcare, unable to secure childcare without a steady income, Land’s tragic story illuminates the fallacy of “pulling oneself up by their bootstraps,” and demands attention be paid to the inequities plaguing working women trying to build a life on their own. You will laugh, cry and cheer for Stephanie’s story, and like her, you’ll wonder how to change a broken system and help the broken people that are left in its wake.

Wine pairing for your reading: There’s a scene in Maid where Stephanie Land talks about getting the occasional ten dollar tip from a client, with which she’d go out and get herself a bottle of wine. So don’t think fancy with this pairing, think widely accessible, affordable, and best bang for your buck you can find! Gazela Vinho Verde is a surprisingly good find that fit the bill. A Portuguese wine that will appeal to Pinot Grigio lovers, this wine is light on the tongue, with fresh acidity and citrus notes, and slightly sparkling to make even your dullest Tuesday nights just a little bit festive. This wine screams girls’ night and is likely to please variety of white wine loving palettes. And between $5 – $7 a bottle, it’s not going to break the bank either!

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

Set in a dystopian world where women don’t have rights and are merely “created” for the pleasure of men, Only Ever Yours is the story of a group of girls being raised in a finishing school where they’re taught to be beautiful and desirable for the rich men with whom they hope to become companions upon graduation. All they have to do is stay in the top ten most beautiful girls in their class, and they’ll be all but assured a life of partnership with one of the rich male heirs who come and observe them during their “training.” The competition is ruthless, as leaving school without a companion means the life of either a trained concubine or a strict “chastity,” a future teacher at the school. As the intensity of their senior year mounts, Isabel, the ever popular girl at the top of the class falls apart. And with her out of the picture, the other girls do whatever it takes to climb the ranks and win top prize, the hand the handsome male heir who promises a life of status and money. Deeply disturbing with an ending that will leave you needing a drink, this is the perfect book for a whole weekend and a whole bottle of wine.

Wine pairing for your reading: Getting to the end of the this book almost requires something stronger than wine! It’s not that it’s a tedious read, I flew through its pages! Rather, O’Neill writes with a scalpel that continually slices at the reader’s attention as situation after situation satirizes our own society. The characters in this book are Pinot Noir…a grape that’s ridiculously hard to grow, yet makes delicious wine. Pinot Noir grapes are clingy, thin skinned, and delicate. Yet when cultivated, well they shine in Burgundy! So take a deep breath and get reading with a glass of Estancia Pinot Noir. Light bodied with a long smooth finish, this Pinot Noir features light overtones of red fruit with a hint of vanilla and baking spices. It’s relatively dry (which will pair well with both the dry humor of the main characters, and the juicy secrets they’re trying to hide!). Best to serve after decanting, open this up to breathe before you start reading, and by the time the book makes you want to drink, it’ll be ready!

American Royals – Katharine McGee

If you’re looking for an alternative to Trump vs. Biden this fall, American Royals is a clever, if not slightly predictable, reimagining of the United States of America under the rule of a royal family. It’s hard not to look at the cast of main characters and draw immediate parallels to William, Kate, Meghan and Harry. From a dutiful heir to the throne constantly aware of royal etiquette and duty, to the sassy and troublesome younger siblings who’d rather ditch the halls of the palace to make tabloid headlines, from the “perfect” relationship set to reinvent the modern monarchy, to the hookups that light up social media, it’s hard not to see a little bit of People magazine on every page. But it’s a delightful distraction from the political quagmire we’re actually living in, and it’s hard not to like the characters McGee has created. You’ll cheer for the heroine, seethe at the villian, and pick your favorite pairings you hope make it to the end. And speaking of the end, the sequel to American Royals just came out in September, and while I have yet to reach the top of the hold list at the library, I’ve heard it’s equally as enjoyable. So consider this a two for one recommendation, and plan your free time accordingly!

Wine recommendation for your reading: This book is moscato. It’s light. It’s airy. You don’t have to think hard about it. You’ll come back for more over and over even though there’s nothing particularly cerebral about it. Sorry moscato…but also not sorry! I’ll drink it all day, just like you could read this book all day and never feel badly about it. If I’m going to recommend moscato it’s got to be Roscato Moscato, because honestly, what a name! An excellent partner for spicy Thai takeout, this moscato is perfect for a night in. Fruity, light, with a crisp finish and bubbles that dance on your tongue, there’s nothing complicated about this wine, unlike the characters in McGee’s book. Simply delightful sipping and perfect for a patio or front porch session while the fall weather is still nice!

White Dresses – Mary Pflum Peterson

I honestly didn’t think I knew who Mary Pflum Peterson was before I read this book, but if you’re in that boat with me, after reading about her work on Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN, you’ll likely realize you’ve seen some of her reporting and/or producing. White Dresses does touch on some of that work, along with the obstacles she overcame as a woman in journalism and her quest to do great work while raising a family. However, more than that, White Dresses is a memoir about family, and the stories of three generations of women connected by the white dresses they wore for the momentous occasions of their lives. Central to this narrative is Mary’s mother, Anne, a hoarder haunted by years she spent as a cloistered nun, and then married to a man who would eventually come out as gay. As Anne’s life dissolves into chaos, Mary desperately tries to save her, coming back always to their fierce family loyalty, and their love of white dresses. Though the ending of this book felt inevitable, it was no less powerful. Pflum Peterson’s narration is not only compelling, but makes you feel like you’ve sat down with a long lost friend who’s about to explain where she’s been all these years.

Wine pairing for your reading: It is only fitting for a book about white dresses to recommend the wine I once picked for the biggest even to which I wore a white dress. Prairie Fume from Wollersheim Winery is the signature white wine Josh and I picked for our wedding reception, and a perfect pairing for all your white dress occasions. This wine is even keel, right down the middle: medium body, medium acidity, lightly fruity and dry on the finish. A local favorite in Wisconsin, the winery will ship around the country, so consider this your invitation to expand your palette! And, of course, you’ll worry less about drips and spills when the wine doesn’t threaten to stain your white dress investment!

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