Book reviews are great, right?
I love a good book recommendation, but you know what would make it even better?
If it came attached to a scene-setting cocktail recipe.
Summer is the perfect time for sipping something with a little kick while you toss off your shoes and slide into your favorite chair for some much-needed R&R (reading & relaxation, that is).
So I thought I’d start sharing some of my favorite Southern stories and spirits — the best of both worlds, if you will.
First up in the new recurring feature is Clay’s Quilt by Silas House paired with a little piece of the holler, a little sweet something I’m calling the Bourbon Squeeze.
Let your palette rest while we chat about the book first.
I can count on one hand (with fingers left over) the number of people I will accept book recommendations from without preamble or question.
At the very top of that short list is my Aunt Paulette, a volunteer librarian in Myrtle Beach.
She’s previously introduced me to a host of incredible authors including Chris Bohjalian (Buffalo Soldier is in my top five favorite books of all time and if you love The Great Gatsby, you have to read the Double Bind, plain and simple) and Jacqueline Winspear (author of the Maisy Dobbs series) as well as my current #1 favorite book of all time — The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Her taste is varied, but perfected. If she sends me a book, it immediately goes to the top of my ever-growing “To Read” pile with a gold star. Aunt Paulette knows her books and she never misses.
Two summers ago on a family trip to visit my cousin in Kentucky, Aunt Paulette passed along a handful of new reads to take home, including a piece of Kentucky itself, wrapped conveniently in the covers of Clay’s Quilt.
Back on Florida soil, I opened the book, and within a few sentences was rolling through a shady holler in the passenger seat of Clay’s pick-up truck, my feet on the coal-dusted dash as I sang along to his favorite Lucinda Williams track.
It is a beautiful thing when a book can pick you up and move you somewhere else — I’m not talking like an airplane.
This is not just a change in scenery, it’s a change in perception and personality. I was not a stranger in a strange land. I was at home, in Kentucky, living among Clay Sizemore’s colorful family. I was in the kitchen with Aunt Easter, painting my toenails with Evangeline, taking shots with Cake (yes, Cake), and listening to Alma’s sweet violin music on the porch.
There is an undercurrent of tension in this book, a conceivable and dark-ish plot related to the death of Clay’s mother and his budding relationship with Alma, but the plot is not what brings this book into your heart. It is the people. It’s the life, the love and the struggles of ordinary folks surviving ordinary joys and ordinary sorrows.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this book.
Do yourself a favor and listen to Silas House himself read you the first chapter of the book in his deep, Kentucky drawl, so you’ll hear the rest of the narration in your head with the same, smooth Southern melody.
I’ve also read House’s Eli the Good, also fantastic in its own right. It’s a testament to how great House is that I’ve forced myself not to consume all his writing with a gusto, but rather parse and savor his handful of fantastic titles. When I finally allow myself to indulge in the others, I’ll be sure to pass them along as well.
Now let’s get to the spirits.
This book requires a glass of something sweet, but hard. Something as respectable as Clay Sizemore’s character, but with a kick that will get you on the dance floor at the local juke joint.
I’m not a big bourbon person myself, but I wanted to create something light that I would enjoy sipping on the porch with a great book in the summer heat (because May in Florida is most certainly summer).
Here’s the recipe for the Bourbon Squeeze:
Start with your ice cubes, throw in an ounce of your favorite bourbon (I used an ole faithful, JB) and add a squeeze of honey (maybe a teaspoon or so, depending on how sweet you want it) and a squeeze of lemon (I tossed in a thin slice of fresh lemon as well).
I topped off my glass with some Sparkling Ice (picked up at Publix for $1) — which is carbonated, naturally flavored mineral water.
In this case I used the sparkling apple flavor for a crisp, thirst-quenching kick.
I have to tell you, it was delightful.
Not only would this be more than sufficient as a warm-afternoon-porch-sipping-beverage, it would also be an excellent cold remedy (filing that away for future reference).
So there you have your first taste of the new Southern Stories & Spirits feature, can’t wait to bring you next month’s entry with some Joshilyn Jackson and tasty sangria!