Book Shelves and Wine Racks – Winter 2021 Edition

The days are colder; the nights are longer, and the pandemic still has most social plans on hold. Winter 2021was made for cozy sweaters, fuzzy slippers, and many many nights in with a good book. A new year brings new hope and maybe a few new titles and authors to add to your reading list. Here are a few to get you started, along with a recommended wine pairing to keep you cozy and toasty while you wait for spring days!

The End of the World Running Club – Adrian J. Walker

At the very beginning of the pandemic, I had a hard time reading books that featured dystopian, post-disaster worlds. But as the COVID-times stretched on and on, I realized that I generally read at least one such novel a year, and that, perhaps, embracing the whole ‘transcendence of the human spirit’ theme in a novel would continue to make it easier to find those silver linings in the continuing difficulties of the world. The End of the World Running Club is a beautiful story of resilience, featuring a post-apocalyptic world wrecked by a freak asteroid event (which doesn’t feel like it hits too close to home like most plague novels would!) When Edgar Hill finds himself on the opposite end of the country from his family, the only option to reunite with them and seek refuge together is to run the 500 miles that separate them. But Edgar Hill is not a runner…in fact, Edgar Hill has never been much of anything. Simultaneously emboldened and challenged by the circumstances, he sets off with an unexpected band of allies risking life and limb to find his wife and children before it’s too late.

Wine recommendation for your reading:
Wine has survived the rise and fall of empires and ages, and when I think of the wine that will likely survive the apocalypse, it isn’t the expensive, exclusive vintages, but rather the simple tables wines like those we enjoyed in the small villages of Tuscany and Northern Italy. And so, for such a book I give you such a wine. Banfi Col Di Sasso Toscana is full bodied, fruit forward, Italian wine that is not fancy but wholly satisfying. A blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon it’s not near as ‘sharp’ as Sangiovese is on its own, and mellows out nicely with a little bit of decanting before enjoying.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

As a general rule of thumb, I’m skeptical of a prequel penned post-publication of an original series. Yet, when an additional volume is added to a series like The Hunger Games, it at least warrants a once over. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a bit like an ‘origin story’ set in a post-war Panem where the annual Hunger Games competition is in its infancy and future president Coriolanus Snow is a student at a prestigious Capitol prep-school. As part of his schooling, he’s assigned a tribute to mentor in the games. A victory, and his future will be assured. But navigating the politics of the early Capitol is just as dangerous as navigating the arena, and his status as future leader of Panem is anything but assured. This book is a delightful surprise, an enjoyable read, full of unexpected twists and turns. A prequel that will not disappoint.

Wine recommendation for your reading:
If you’ve read The Hunger Games trilogy, or watched the films, you’ll know that life in the Capitol is bold, brash, and over the top. That’s not quite the same Capitol you see in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, but you can tell that’s the dream. I was reminded of a wine from our recent twelve wines of Christmas review: 2017 Isolde’s Rapture. Described as “bold and boozy,” this wine is a bit over the top full of flavor and a ABV over 15%. Lots of body, lots of flavor, lots of tannins, this is a big wine for an epic story.

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

I found On Chesil Beach by accident, and was unexpectedly swept up in the story. Author Ian McEwan is best known for his novel (and the subsequent movie) Atonement, and On Chesil Beach is just as richly layered and complex, a feat considering it’s only about 200 pages. Set on a single evening, with flashbacks to the couple’s courtship, the novel chronicles Florence and Edward’s wedding night starting with a tense and stilted dinner in which both parties anxiously await what they know is about to occur between them. What neither realizes is that the decisions made throughout the day and evening have already set in motion the course of their entire relationship, and by the end of the night, they’ll reckon with the truth that Edward’s dream come true is Florence’s worst nightmare. Beautifully written with pacing that is somehow both slowly tantalizing and breakneck speed, I read the book in two sittings!

Wine recommendation for your reading:
In the opening paragraphs of the book as their wedding meal is described, McEwan mentions a french white, vintage and varietal notably absent, which doesn’t quite seem to gel with the beef dinner being served. He writes that Edward would not have known to consider ordering a red, and that later they would take the remainder of the bottle down to the beach and drink it in the waves. Such is the inspiration for this recommendation: Spier Seaward Chenin Blanc. Dry, light, and crisp with notes of pear and tropical fruit, this is an ideal pairing for seafood and/or barefoot walks on the beach at sunset.

Dragonfly – Leila Meacham

Whereas I’ve found the other books on the list thus far by accident, or started reading semi-reluctantly only to find a gem, this book I requested, waited for, and was not disappointed with! Set during World War II, Dragonfly is a story of an unlikely espionage team based in Paris at the height of the occupation. When a letter from Washington DC arrives precisely at the moment each faces a personal fork in the road: a Texas athlete from a German family, an orphaned fashion designer, an upperclass son of a wealthy French woman, a fly-fisherman, and a beautiful fencing prodigy all find themselves unexpectedly recruited to the OSS and part of a five pronged spy operation called “Dragonfly.” In various roles around Paris, the team infiltrates the highest Nazi ranks, until a fatal mistake leads to the arrest and execution of a member of the team. They all knew the dangers…and they all watched it happen…but is everything as it seems or is this, too, part of the spy game?

Wine recommendation for your reading:
A book set in Paris deserves a French wine. A book about American spies deserves an American wine. Pinot Noir reminds me of France, but is also widely produced in the United States, and Murphy Goode Pinot Noir is aged in both American and French Oak. So it’s got a little bit of everything you want! Dark fruits balanced against bright acidity. Smooth vanilla adding complexity to intense cherry and aromas. At $9 it’s an approachable price point for an everyday, go to, Pinot Noir.

The Stationary Shop – Marjan Kamali

I finished this book weeks ago, and I still think about this book! A breathtaking and heartbreaking story of love that transcends the years and the miles, The Stationary Shop is written in a flash-forward, flashback style where two love stories run parallel to each other sixty years apart. In 1953 Tehran, Roya falls hopelessly in love with Bahman, a revolutionary with a love of poetry and a thirst for justice. After a whirlwind romance, the two agree to meet in the town square and elope, but that evening, violence erupts as the coup d’etat tears apart the political fabric of Iran. Bahman never shows, and Roya is left to pick up the pieces of her broken dreams. But sixty years later, a half a world away, fate delivers Bahman back into Roya’s world, and she can’t pass up an opportunity to learn the answer to the question that’s haunted her since the fateful day in the square. Why did Bahman never show? She never imagines Bahman will have the exact same question for her.

Wine recommendation for your reading:
This story reminded me of those great romances you learn from an aging friend or family member as they gaze back on the expanse of their life. Stolen moments, a romantic book store, an exotic location, it’s hard not to be swept away, breathless, by the story. Here’s an unexpected pairing for this book, inspired by getting swept up in the moment and exotic locations! GWC Assyrtiko Santorini is a Grecian wine from the island of Santorini. The growing conditions on Santorini are exceptionally difficult, resulting in a unique style of vine management involving weaving the vines into baskets on the ground which better retain moisture from the sea breezes. Earthy, with minerality specific to the unique, volcanic nature of the region and island, the wine is crisp, clean, and features notes of citrus and apple.

Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She has a master's degree in learning design and technology and has continued graduate-level work in equity, reading and writing instruction, and student/staff self-care and mental wellness. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate works to expand arts opportunities for her own students and is an advocate for expanded arts programming across the state and country. An avid distance runner, pianist, and would-be wine aficionado, Kate describes her blog "Bin 33" as, "An easy, and occasionally snarky, conversation with a good friend over a glass of wine!"

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