Book Review: Cold Girl

We had good intentions of posting monthly book reviews on our blog, highlighting independent authors, sadly over a year has passed since our last review.  We are back and pledge to post reviews more often.  This month, or perhaps, this year’s feature review isn’t actually for an independent author.  RM Greenaway was an unpublished author when she entered the Unhanged Arthur Award contest but after taking down the prize last year, her debut novel is now duly published and available in bookstores everywhere and of course, on line.  We really enjoyed this BC Blues Mystery.  If you want to know why, check out our review below….

Cold Girl was the winner of the Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur Award for best unpublished first novel, and deservedly so. As a result, of course, it’s not unpublished anymore.  R.M. Greenaway effectively delivers a compelling mystery and solid police procedural, but more importantly, she engages the reader with a cast of fully realized, deeply flawed and complex characters.

51JQ6WcMiuL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Greenaway’s prose draws the reader into a claustrophobic, rural, small town setting, tucked into the frigid mountains of northwestern British Columbia, where an attractive young woman with a promising music career has mysteriously disappeared. There is concern that her disappearance may be linked to a serial killer who has been abducting women along the so-called ‘Highway of Tears’. A team of regional police investigators from neighboring communities is assembled in the small rural town to uncover the mystery.

In one scene the lead investigator David Leith, a world weary veteran of the Force, stands over a dead suspect following a shootout and Greenaway writes:

“He found Potter hunkered deep in the hollow formed by two firs, head bowed forward between his knees as if ashamed of the big bloody mess he’d made of his life.

Leith made his radio call, bringing in the medics. Then he mirrored Potter in a way, head hung, nothing left to do or say.”

As I read Cold Girl there were multiple times like that when I paused, for no other reason than to admire the quality of the prose. The dialogue flows naturally, and at times is memorable, evoking the bleak setting, providing insightful reflections on human nature or adding touches of the subtle humor that weaves its way through the novel.

The mystery of who murdered the young singer serves its purpose, although admittedly I’m often indifferent when it comes to unravelling the mystery itself in genre fiction. While I didn’t find the resolution to this mystery particularly surprising, I don’t demand that of a novel, and ask only that it deliver a conclusion where the puzzle pieces fit together plausibly within the context of the world the author has created. Cold Girl does this effectively.

Where the novel truly excels though is in its story telling. I like that the characters are flawed and real and interesting and that their relationships are complex and often teetering on the edge of conflict, both expressed and turned inward.  There are layers to Cold Girl and not every plot line is fully resolved in the end, as is often the case in life.

I highly recommend Cold Girl.

 

 

TOP 10 WAYS YOU CAN HELP A SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHOR SUCCEED

Do you know someone who’s published a novel?  Almost everyone does.  Lately it seems there are more people writing novels than there are people reading them.  With the advent of ‘print-on-demand’ and ‘eBooks’ an indie-author no longer needs to invest thousands of dollars and fill their garage with boxes of books that they need to sell from the trunk of their car with only the thin hope of ever breaking even.  Nowadays, if you’ve written a novel and have access to the internet, your book can be made available to anyone around the world to buy in just a few hours, with little or no financial risk.

While publishing is easy these days – getting noticed is another story.  If you know (and presumably like) an independent author, you may have wondered ‘what can I do to help?’

For those of you wanting to help an independent author succeed, here are 10 things we suggest you can do:

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1. READ THE BOOK: What indie-authors want more than anything else (yes, even more than cash and glory) is for people to read their novel. The challenge is that simply knowing someone (and even loving them dearly) doesn’t make them a good writer.   Reading someone’s novel is a substantial commitment (depending on how quickly you read) and there’s a distinct possibility that it won’t be very good, or at least, not your kind of book. While there’s no quality-control on self-published novels, just because an author doesn’t have a conventional publisher, doesn’t mean their novel is bad. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s pretty good. A lot of wonderful novels fail to find a traditional publisher (it can be difficult to get one to even look at a synopsis of your novel, let alone publish it). Hopefully, your co-worker, friend, or family member has written one of those great novels, but even if they haven’t, they’ll appreciate that you read it.

2. BUY THE BOOK: This may sound like a repeat of #1 but that’s not necessarily the case. You can read a book without buying it and you can buy a book without reading it. Ideally, an indie-author wants you to buy it and read it (although doing one and not the other is always better than doing neither). Indie-authors have a lot of promotions where they offer their eBook for free, people can borrow someone else’s copy, or the novel may be available at a public library, but paid sales help an indie-author’s bottom line and, more importantly, it’s good for their morale. Book sales also affect a novel’s ranking on sites like Amazon. Each sale helps move the novel up the bestseller list which is an important marketing tool for the author. Independent authors don’t make much money from sales but whenever they sell a book, an angel gets its wings. (So I’ve been told).

3. DISPLAY THE BOOK: If you have a print copy of an indie-author’s book, read it in conspicuous places like the staff room at work, on public transit, at the airport, or on the beach. Even if you’ve already read it, you can still carry it around with you when you’re in public. If company is coming over, leave it casually on the coffee table where it can be seen. You’d be surpriseread-booksd by how many people are interested in knowing what other people are reading and will either overtly or surreptitiously check out the book. It may even become a conversation starter.

4. TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THE BOOK: This works best if you’ve actually read the book and liked it. Nobody believes the author when they say they wrote a great book but if a book is recommended to a reader by someone they know, there’s a good chance they’ll read it. Don’t feel you need to ‘hard-sell’ anyone. It’s enough to tell people that you enjoyed it. You can always lend your copy to anyone you think might like it or let them know where they can buy it if they seem interested.

5. GIFT THE BOOK: Books make a great gift for anyone who knows how to read. Why spend money on fuzzy socks, coffee cup warmers, or a sweater they’ll never wear, when you could give them the gift of reading (and what’s nobler than that)? The nice thing is that it’s a personal gift because you know the author. While it’s possible that the recipient won’t like the book (not everyone has your discerning good taste), there’s a reasonable chance they weren’t going to like whatever else you were going to give them anyway. At least this way, the author you’re trying to help has increased sales and (hopefully) a few new readers.

art-using-facebook-620x3496. GIVE THEM A BOOST ON SOCIAL MEDIA: The first five items on our list focused largely on promotion within your circle of family and friends but clearly in order to have worldwide success, an indie author needs to reach a worldwide audience. Independent authors use social media extensively to promote their book for the obvious reason that it’s free. It can also be reasonably effective…but mostly, it’s free. Success on social media is dependent on the multiplying effect that comes with posts being shared and re-shared. You can help an author reach a larger audience by simply ‘liking’, commenting on, and sharing their Facebook posts. The more you interact with their posts on social media the faster their message spreads. If you have social media accounts, tweet them on Twitter, tumble with them on Tumblr and do whatever it is that people do with them on Instagram. It all helps. 

7. SING THEIR PRAISES ON THE INTERNET: Interacting with posts an author makes on social media is a huge help but if you compose your own content and fire it off into cyberspace, that’s even better. If you have a blog, post an interview with the author or review their book. Post about their novel, book signing events, cover reveals, and book launches in social media. (If you have a family member who is an author: a night out for dinner could result in a quick photo and a lighthearted post on social media about ‘an author sighting in a local eatery’). The internet is filled with writers clamoring for people to read their book. An independent voice who says “I read this book and thought it was great” carries a lot more credibility in cyberspace than the voice of the author alone.

8. POST A REVIEW:   This is perhaps the single most valuable way you can assist an independent author. Book reviews do not need to be long or fancy. A star rating and a few lines of text can take only a few minutes to post, but the impact is huge. Prospective buyers on sites like Amazon, check the ratings and reviews for products they are thinking about purchasing. The number of reviews a book has, the book’s average star rating, and the content of reviews all influence purchasing decisions. We don’t advocate fake reviews. Most writers want honest feedback. Obviously, if you give them an honest one-star rating with a critical review you aren’t going help them sell books (the intent of this post) but an obvious fake five-star review won’t help much either. Many consumers are suspicious of overly effusive five-star reviews and will assume, probably correctly, that most, if not all of them, have been submitted by friends and family of the author. If you liked their novel, posting a positive review is extremely helpful. It doesn’t need to be a five-star gusher (in fact it’s good for an author to have a mix of 3, 4 and 5 star reviews) and it doesn’t need to be long or particularly clever. The best places to post reviews are on Amazon and Goodreads, but posting reviews on any site that allows readers to rate books is helpful.

9. PROVIDE ADVICE: With print-on-demand publishing and eBooks, a novel can be edited any time. If you have feedback that would improve an author’s novel, let them know. Independent authors don’t typically have a stable of highly trained ninja editors combing through their work. Ideally their text is clean and the plot free of holes but small errors can slip through. If you see any typos, let the author know (discretely if possible) so they can correct the text. Most authors appreciate honest feedback, and if feasible, are willing to address plot holes, character inconsistencies, or other issues that a discerning reader might find. For the self-published author, it’s never too late to make changes.

10. TELL OPRAH ABOUT THE BOOK: The single greatest thing any author’s friends or family members can do to help them increase sales is to convince Oprah to read their novel. If you know Oprah (and clearly, some people do), you convince her to read the book and it turns out that she likes it, the word on the street is that it can have a significant impact on sales. Apparently she has a very large and loyal following and her seal of approval holds great sway with many of her fans.

MS Caryall

10 Questions for Author Ryan Scoville

We searched high and low for a second author to showcase in our popular “10 Questions” feature.  Many promising authors pleaded with us to feature them but, after a rigorous search, we settled on Ryan Scoville, the reclusive author of The Slithy Toves.

Scoville’s debut novel has received a remarkable 4.9 out of 5 rating on Amazon.com (quite possibly the most positively reviewed novel on the site) – and it’s no wonder.  He’s written a winner (and we don’t say that about every novel we read).

We sat down with Ryan to ask him a few questions (10 to be exact): about his novel, his writing process, and the publishing industry in general (and by ‘sat down’ we mean ‘exchanged a few emails’).  Rumor has it that Ryan lives somewhere in the USA  but no one  knows for sure where he lives – even he may not be sure (as we’ve said, he’s reclusive).   We don’t have the travel budget for face-to-face interviews but even if we did, we couldn’t be entirely sure where to find him.


Note: This may or may not be a photo of reclusive author Ryan Scoville.

Without further ado here are10 Questions with Ryan Scoville.

1.  What was the inspiration for The Slithy Toves?

I don’t remember exactly how, but the story came to me around the time of the Elizabeth Smart abduction, or more precisely, when she was found alive nine months later.  Her family went through a terrible ordeal, and even when she came back, things had to be difficult because of all she went through.  At some point during all the publicity, I started thinking what if things turned out “differently.”  That was the seed for The Slithy Toves.

2.  How would you describe your writing process?

I start with an ending.  I wouldn’t write anything if I didn’t know how it ended, as that’s the whole purpose to me.  Most writers start with unique characters, a unique event, or some sort of setup that is interesting, but they’re not quite sure how it’s going to end.  I know the ending and usually have a good handle on the beginning.  For me, the difficult part is the middle.  I have to be careful that I’m not just adding scenes to get to the ending, but that I’m adding substance and events that are interesting in their own right.  If I ever write a chapter and am glad just to have it done, I know I’m in trouble.  My goal is that each chapter is supposed to be there and properly adds to the story.  I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal.

3.  Are the characters in The Slithy Toves based on real people?

Not at all, but I do get some strange looks.  The story begins with three children who have been abducted, three girls and a boy, buried alive in the woods by their abductor.  People who start reading this know that I have three children, two girls and a boy of similar ages, and begin to wonder.  The truth is I wrote the book almost ten years ago, before I had kids, and only self-published this year.  So any similarities are purely coincidental, but admittedly if you didn’t know that, it’s a little creepy.

4.  Why did it take you ten years to self-publish it?

I spent many, many hours working on this book, attended writing classes, and even spent a week at the University of Iowa work shopping it.  When it was all done, I wrote the requisite one page query and sent it off to as many agents I could find.  When it was all done, not a single agent asked to read any more of my story.  Naturally, I was a little disappointed that I could have made it just as far into the publishing world if I had never written the book and only spent an afternoon writing that query.  Ten years ago, there were no e-readers and the only form of self-publishing was through a vanity press.  You paid someone to do a run of your books, they all showed up in your garage, and you spent the next few years with a box in your trunk, peddling them to whoever listened.  I know my skills for sales and marketing aren’t that good, and so I put the book into a drawer, got married, started having kids, and completely forgot about it.

Today it is extremely easy to self-publish and there is a new article every day about some breakout author who was ignored by the publishing industry, decided to self-publish, and became an overnight sensation.

5.  So you’re a fan of self-publishing?

Self-publishing is different, and there are pros and cons.  Authors, genres, styles, and stories that would have never been seen are making their way into people’s reading lists.  Now that everyone can publish, everyone is.  I’ve seen books that had double-digit spelling and grammar mistakes on the first page, and their books show up on Amazon looking like everyone else’s.  Thank goodness for reviews, although that’s a whole separate topic.  I have very good reviews, but will be the first to admit most of them are from friends and family, although mostly unsolicited.  So the goal line for success has been pushed further down, and being published is no longer the achievement it once was.  (Although I must admit how cool it is the first time you search on Amazon and your book shows up, or when an actual copy lands on your doorstep that you can flip through…)  When people say they’ve heard I wrote a book, I’m always sure to sheepishly say that it’s self-published.

6.  Have you learned anything about marketing and sales in the publishing world since then?

No.  I’ve probably regressed.  My title comes from the made-up words “The Slithy Toves,” which a majority of people have never heard of and have no urge to learn about.  (It’s from the poem “The Jabberwocky” in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”)  The cover has a picture of a child’s foot protruding from the leaves, which isn’t something most people are interested in (thankfully).  The free read on Amazon is the prologue, which is a dark and disturbing introduction that many people stop midway through.  In the end, the publishing industry probably had good reason to not ask to read any more than the query.  But those who actually make it through the prologue, generally find themselves engrossed in the story, finishing it in a few days, and satisfied when their done.   So I don’t have sales or marketing, but I do have word of mouth.  (And for you dear reader, who’s made it to question six, I can almost promise that you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Slithy Toves if you decide to get it.  I have to qualify with “almost promise”, as I don’t think there’s ever been a book that everyone enjoys.)

7.  So tell us about the book?  (Ok, that’s not actually a question, but we put a question mark here anyway because the feature is called 10 Questions, not 9 Questions and 1 Request for Information)

I can’t, or at least I won’t.  There’s something warm and comforting about a genre book, the boy and girl who hate each other at first encounter or the hard-drinking detective who can’t catch a break, but when reading a new author, sometimes it’s fun not to have any guideposts on where it’s going.  At its most basic, three children are abducted in The Slithy Toves and it’s a mystery as to who did it and what will happen to the children.  Beyond that, I think the reader will enjoy uncovering the rest on their own, without any clues as to what’s going on.

8.  Are you working on a second book?

Perhaps.  I have a second book that I did many years ago, but it’s too short, about half as long as The Slithy Toves, and needs a lot of work.  That being said, I think it has a lot of potential, so I keep adding to it in my head and wondering if the additions will work and if I should blow the dust off and get started.  Soon.

9.  Is there anything you would have done differently with The Slithy Toves?

Yes. I probably shouldn’t have written it in present tense.  The prologue works wonderfully in present tense, and so I just kept with it throughout, but it’s very difficult to write present tense in third person.  When I wasn’t careful, I kept slipping into past tense and having to fix it during edits.  There’s a character trait I would have liked to add to the main character, but it would have required changing most of the book.  There are a few things I would have liked to be “better”, but just didn’t know what better was.  And every time I read it, I found myself making large scale changes in the writing.  My wife and mother, who helped immensely with the editing, would point out a spelling mistake, and when I’d read the sentence I’d rip up the whole paragraph and redo it, fixing that spelling error but introducing two more plus a grammar mistake.  They were both very patient with the rewrites.  I completely understand the quote by Gene Fowler, “A book is never finished; it’s abandoned.”

10.  Is there anything you’d like to add?  (Nobody can accuse us of lobbing softball questions at our interview subjects.  That’s some hard-hitting journalism there.)

When writing emails, texts and “10 questions for the Author”, I like to put asides in parentheses.  (I can’t help it.)  I don’t do that in my formal writing, but can’t help it when writing in my own voice.   (I just can’t, I don’t know why.)  I interchange “there” and “their” at a scary rate when typing, probably to the point of getting more wrong than if I just flipped a coin.  I know the difference, and can easily fix them on the second pass, but my first drafts are littered with this mistake.  I tend to think of writers as magicians who just sit down and spew beautiful prose(and admittedly, some do), but I’m also glad to hear that for many it’s work, which means if you work hard enough you can eventually fix those mistakes and make it better and better until it’s… better than what you started with.  That also means there’s hope.

Did this interview make you want to buy The Slithy Toves?  If it did follow this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Slithy-Toves-Ryan-Scoville/dp/0615901824/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421982953&sr=8-1&keywords=slithy+toves

 

Mustang Shuffle now available as a paperback

My novel Mustang Shuffle is now available in two formats, as a Kindle eBook and now as a trade paperback.  Both formats of the novel can be ordered/downloaded from Amazon.  If you don’t have a Kindle it can be downloaded to any PC, tablet, or smartphone using a free app available on Amazon.

Mustang Shuffle full cover

The cover was done by Daryl Stephenson http://www.caricatoons.ca/

If you aren’t sure whether or not you want to spring for $2.99 (US) for the Kindle version or $15.75 (US) plus shipping and handling, for the paperback version, consider these positive reviews for the novel:

“A seemingly harmless practical joke gone horribly awry triggers a string of brutal murders, entangling more than a dozen otherwise disparate people in this well-conceived, strongly executed and highly readable thriller.  The prose is crisp and the dialogue realistic.” – Publishers Weekly

“The writing in the first two chapters is dark and hilarious. The third chapter is laugh out loud funny. The opening was great and instantly had me hooked. Mustang Shuffle has great character development and lots of action, too. It’s a perfect airplane or weekend read. Highly recommended for those looking for something a little off the beaten path.”  -digsblues, Amazon customer review

“What a pleasant surprise.  First book or not, this story is a treat. A joy-ride.” – Jack L, Amazon customer review

“Jeff Norburn knows how to spin a story with just the right blend of mystery, violence, and humor.” – Becker, Amazon customer review

“I enjoyed this novel, with its laugh-out-loud moments, its humour and its action-packed twists and turns.” Jennifer Cameron Smith, Amazon customer review

“I love reading books by authors from BC, and this was a great one! It is a fast-paced mystery book that combines a bit of romance and comedy. A fun story that keeps you reading until the end.” – cndshopaholic, Amazon customer review 

“It is hard to believe that Mustang Shuffle is Canadian author Jeff Norburn’s thrilling debut novel. He skillfully introduces and develops plenty of diverse characters on a converging path filled with anger, danger, deception and murder while keeping readers surprised, in suspense and guessing where the storyline will end and who will survive.” – Tom McGee, Amazon customer review

“This is one of the best openings to a novel I’ve ever read. It pulls you in on page one, and you keep turning them until you’re done. I read this in two days, and enjoyed the fast pace, whimsicality, word play, and clever intertwining of seemingly unrelated characters. Very much looking forward to Mr. Norburn’s next novel.” – Thomas Barron, Amazon customer review

Mustang Shuffle is available in paperback at (in Canada and the US):  http://www.amazon.com/Mustang-Shuffle-Jeff-Norburn/dp/1502827026/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1414214226&sr=1-1

Mustang Shuffle is available for Kindle at (in Canada): http://www.amazon.ca/Mustang-Shuffle-Jeff-Norburn-ebook/dp/B00M8RG1YC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414214219&sr=1-1

Mustang Shuffle is available for Kindle at (in the US): http://www.amazon.com/Mustang-Shuffle-Jeff-Norburn-ebook/dp/B00M8RG1YC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1414214226

Mustang Shuffle is also available in Europe and other Countries on Amazon.  Refer to Amazon in those countries.

4 bands you probably aren’t listening to, but you should be

1. First up is Waxahatchee, an indie folk music project, formed in 2011.  The band/project, for all intents and purposes is really one person, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield.  The name Waxahatchee comes from Waxahatchee Creek in Alabama.

Waxahatchee have released two albums: The very good American Weekend, released in 2011, and the even better Cerulean Salt released last year.  Cerulean Salt was one of our five favourite albums of 2013.

Waxahatchee sounds like she could be Liz Phair’s kid sister.  While Cerulean Salt got some recognition in the year end lists, Waxahatchee hasn’t had as much success, even in indie music circles, as I think she deserves.

 

2. Second up is Drenge, a British band consisting of two brothers.  The band’s name is Danish for ‘boys”.

They got a little recognition in the UK following the resignation of Labour MP Tom Watson from when he wrote in his resignation letter on his blog “be that great Labour leader that you can be, but try to have a real life too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge.”

We couldn’t agree more.  Drenge released their debut album in 2013 and despite the efforts of former MP Watson, the band hasn’t blown up the way they should (yet).  These guys have incredible energy and there is something visceral about songs like “I want to break you in half.”  I haven’t been in a fight since the fifth grade and have the fists of a twelve year old girl, but songs like that make me want to join Fight Club.

 

3. Third up is Menomena, an indie band from Portland Oregon (the epicenter of all that is hipster).  These guys have been around for a while, having released 5 albums and 3 EPs since forming in 2000.  The band today consists of two guys who play multiple instruments.  Their 2010 album Mines is one of our favourite albums of the decade so far.

 

4. Our fourth underrated band is Bad Books, a side project of Kevin Devine and members of indie rock band Manchester Orchestra.  Here at the Norburn Shuffle, we’re big fans of Manchester Orchestra and moderate fans of Devine.  Who we really dig is Andy Hull.  Hull has another side project which is  a solo effort called Right Away Great Captain.  Of the three Hull projects we like Bad Books the best.  Manchester Orchestra rocks the hardest, Right Away Great Captain is the most pensive.  Bad Books finds a nice balance.  The band has released two albums (the cleverly named I and II) and both are excellent albums, although neither has really achieved a critical or commercial breakthrough.

The band is friends with Forrest Whitaker who asked when they were going to name a song after him.  They didn’t write a song about him, but they did write a song where a woman names her baby after him.

 

The Shuffle Book Review: This Month’s Episode “The Slithy Toves”

I recently got myself a Kindle for the expressed purpose of reading independent authors whose books are not readily available in the library or book stores.  The Slithy Toves was one of my favorite excerpts in the the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest where both The Slithy Toves and Mustang Shuffle were Quarter Finalists.  (Sadly neither novel made it into the semi finals in the Mystery/Thriller category where the top 5 were chosen from the top 100 quarterfinalists – My assumption is that we were 7th and 6th respectively).

In an effort to help promote independent authors, I will try to review some of the novels I read from time to time in the hopes that others may consider them for their reading libraries.  First up is a novel by Ryan Scoville called The Slithy Toves.

slithy toves

I really enjoyed The Slithy Toves. This is a compelling mystery/suspense novel, featuring well-developed, fully-realized characters. The prologue grabs the reader immediately with a gripping and decidedly creepy flashback, 30 years earlier, to the abduction of three children in Ohio. Their adductor is a severely twisted individual with a bizarre and unhealthy toe obsession.

The novel then switches to the present day where we are introduced to three families in the same town 30 years later as history repeats itself. Three more children are abducted. Scoville focuses much of the novel on the families of these children and how they cope. He effectively portrays the family’s unique dynamics, and the challenges they face in everyday life before and after the children disappear. Each family is burdened with problems already and the disappearance of a child only adds to the financial difficulties, mental health issues, and grief they are already dealing with. Scoville’s writing really shines in these glimpses into domestic life as these families cope with their struggles in addition to the overwhelming fear they have for their missing children.

The novel effectively builds suspense as the abductor taunts the police with notes and the conclusion provides a twist and a resolution that is satisfying. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good character driven suspense novel. If you have a toe fetish and you like suspense novels – you’ll really, really love this one!

If you are interested in reading The Slithy Toves it is available on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Slithy-Toves-Ryan-Scoville/dp/0615901824/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411003849&sr=1-1

 

Fermented Grapes: My Journey from Wine Novice to (perhaps one day) Wine Connoisseur

Chapter One: Four Days of Sipping in the South Okanagan

I can’t claim to be an expert on fine wines; in fact I’m something of a novice, but what I lack in expertise I make up for in enthusiasm. In recent years, my lovely wife and I have become regular attendees at wine festivals and tasting events and frequent visitors to wineries primarily in our home province of British Columbia, Canada. Like many novice wine drinkers, I initially found most red wines a bit too bold for my palette but I am gradually coming to appreciate and embrace some of the more accessible red wines. My lovely wife enjoys her reds including those rich in tannins. I’m not quite there yet but my journey is just beginning.

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We spent 4 days in late August exploring wineries in the South Okanagan of BC. It may be a surprise to some people who think of temperate rain forest when they think of BC but this area of the province is semi-arid desert. The community of Oliver is the self-proclaimed Wine Capital of Canada and the region grows more than 60 varietals of grapes.  We visited nearly a dozen wineries over a few days. These are some of the highlights:

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Outside Le Vieux Pin in Oliver. No exotic chickens could be found but the wine was excellent.

Le Vieux Pin: This winery was ranked highest in Oliver on Trip Advisor so we made Le Vieux Pin our first stop. As one might gather from the French sounding name, this is a winery that endeavours to capture the essence of the French winemaking tradition. This is truly a winery for people who take their wine seriously. The wines are generally more expensive than many of the other larger wineries in the area but their Syrah was so good we couldn’t stop at just one and picked up more than one bottle.

Silver Sage: Later on the first day we stopped at Silver Sage, perhaps the most entertaining winery in the region. The gentleman pouring our drinks had a polished routine that is well practiced but amusing. His comedic banter combined with the wineries unique fruity wines make Silver Sage a popular stop. We picked up a pair of desert wines including one called The Flame which includes a hot pepper suspended in the bottle.

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The wine tasting room at Black Hills Winery in Oliver leads out onto a patio with a view.

Black Hills: Since we weren’t on a tour with someone else driving, a mid-afternoon break was required to eat lunch, relax poolside, catch-up on the US Open, and allow the alcohol content in my blood stream to dissipate before venturing out again. For our second round on Day One, we visited more wineries, the highlight of which was Black Hills. Black Hills may be my new favourite winery. We arrived during happy hour and instead of the traditional small-sip tasting at a counter and reusing the same glass, we were invited onto a lovely patio and provided two ounce servings of six wines in separate, properly sized glasses. All of the wines were exceptionally good. The highlight was a 2012 Carmenere, which sadly was not available for individual purchase and only available in the gift packages or to wine club members. We picked up multiple bottles of wine and will seriously consider  joining their wine club.

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Loaded up with wine at Young and Wyse.

Young and Wyse: Day two was off to a good start when we visited Young and Wyse in Osoyoos, near the US Border. The winery was started by Steven Wyse, son of the owner of the Burrowing Owl Winery, and his partner Michelle Young.   The Black Sheep Blend, (a blend of Cab Franc, Merlot, Cab Sauv, and Malbec) is a playful reference to Steven allegedly being the ‘Black Sheep’ of the family after leaving the family winery to start his own. With so many wineries in the region and with this one being smaller and off the beaten track, it would be easy for Young and Wyse to get lost in the shuffle but it was one of our favourites in the region and I recommend it.   Many of their wines are award winning, reasonably priced (and shipping charges are very reasonable) and very good.

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At the entrance to the Hester Creek Winery in Oliver, BC.

Hester Creek: On Day 3 our final stop was at Hester Creek on our way home. The winery is gorgeous and boasts some of the oldest vines in the region. We were greeted at the door by a hostess who offered us a glass of Pinot Gris while we wandered around the gift shop and tasting room and checked out the views of the valley. One of the highlights of the visit was tasting the Trebbiano, a white wine that is unique to Hester Creek, being the only winery in the region producing this smooth textured wine.

 

I wasn’t able to comment on every winery visited but since I love to rank things, I offer my list of the wineries we visited on this trip in order of preference. We will be back.

  1. Black Hills
  2. Le Vieux Pin
  3. Hester Creek
  4. Young and Wyse
  5. Church and State
  6. Oliver Twist
  7. Nk’mip Cellars
  8. Desert Hills
  9. Quinta Ferreira
  10. Silver Sage
  11. Burrowing Owl