Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last” by Wright Thompson

BC (before COVID), Capital Cellars would receive its three bottle allotment of Pappy from Buffalo Trace. There might have been a 20 year, a 15 year and a 10 year aged bottles. A raffle would be held to purchase one of the three bottles, with hopeful buyers lining a block along Broadway without social distancing. If you know bourbon, you know why there was so much interest in a chance to buy Pappy.

Wright Thompson, an ESPN sports writer, had attended a Kentucky Derby to do a feature on the race. While there, he noticed the crowds swirling bourbon with “seersucker stuck to their thighs.” Thompson met the charismatic cult-bourbon maker Julius P. Van Winkle III. Thompson noted that “he’s a man around whom others tend to revolve.” 

Thompson thought he could produce a biography of the popular whiskey-whisperer, but instead the content became a tribute to the family, Kentucky heritage, but also soul-searching and meditations on fatherhood.

Thompson tells the story of three generations of successes and failures. It starts with patriarch Julian Proctor “Pappy” Van Winkle introducing Old Fitzgerald, a top-shelf 100-proof bourbon in 1935 and ends with the family’s reluctant sale of its distillery in 1972, due to “an eroding business and family politics.” Being the third generation of this bourbon dynasty, Julian has said that he only stepped in to save the business after his father had been forced to sell the distillery during a downturn in the industry. He says his father died of the heartbreak.

But fortune reversed itself when hundreds of barrels from the family distillery were discovered and Julian was able to purchase them, and bottle his family’s legacy.  Julian Van Winkle III sought to preserve the heritage of his family’s success while maintaining the taste of his forebears. 

Now the challenge was: Could Julian produce whiskey that would live up to the taste of Pappy? Wright Thompson was invited to assist with the crafting. In working with Julian, Thompson learned the honest work of making great whiskey, and applied those lessons to his own craft of writing and his Mississippi heritage. What started as a biography becomes a tale of how we keep faith with the past, our ancestors and the legacy of a great craft.

Julian has been labeled the “Booze Yoda,” but he continues to stand by Pappy’s original mission statement: “We make fine bourbon — at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon.”

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

“Squeeze Me” by Carl Hiaasen

Perhaps if right now you could use some wild escapism, then Carl Hiaasen would be a good panacea. Born and raised in Florida, Hiaasen has written 14 novels, as well as a number of environmental novels for children. All are set in his beloved Florida, and all have a zany, hilarious twisted plots.

This murder mystery and political satire takes place on the wealthy island of Palm Beach during the Charity Ball season, where a socialite has disappeared in the middle of a fundraising gala. The last place anyone thinks to look for her is inside a giant Burmese python resting overhead in a tree. The python makes another appearance when it falls out of the trunk of a car and into the path of a Secret Service motorcade transporting the First Lady. Plus, there is the appearance of a “wildlife wrangler extraordinaire” summoned to deal with the mysterious influx of huge, hungry pythons on the island. This novel includes an irresistible heroine, the first lady, bumbling villains, cynical lawmen and loathsome politicians.

Fueled by the wealthy swamps of Florida, with political commentary about everything Hiaasen can be counted on to make you laugh even through your outrage as he captures the absurdity of our times. His forte is his razor-sharp satire of the political corruption of American culture, especially in Florida.  

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has said that his “wry humor, social commentary and satire are akin to Jonathan Swift, with all the fun.” 
Hiaasen can brighten even the darkest of days. The Washington Post says to just “dive in and have a wonderful time.”

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” by Agatha Christie

Simeon Lee, the family patriarch, has invited all his sons and their families to stay with him over Christmas. Under the guise of a family holiday, Simeon sets about taunting and insulting each one, then makes it known he will be changing his will. On Christmas Eve, after dinner, family and staff hear a loud crash and terrible scream coming from Simeon’s bedroom. Upon rushing upstairs, they find the door locked. Breaking it down, they find the room in shambles and Simeon dead on the floor with his throat slashed.

Fortunately, Hercule Poirot, a well-known Belgian private detective, happens to be spending the Christmas holiday with a friend who lives nearby. He is asked to assist with this mystery, and so begins his investigation. Everyone is a suspect. Each had motive to commit the crime, but who was clever enough to do this within a locked room?  

Be prepared for some wonderful red herrings, lots of clues and a family who begins to turn on one another. Agatha Christie strings us along nicely with this one, and it has to be one of her most enjoyable locked door mysteries.    

— Review by staff, Paul Sawyier Public Library

A Redbird Christmas” by Fannie Flagg

When Chicago native Oswald T. Campbell receives a startling medical diagnosis from his doctor that he may not live beyond Christmas unless he moves somewhere warmer, he makes a sudden decision to move to Alabama. He’s certainly not expecting to be alive long enough to make friends, but one by one the unconventional citizens of Lost River, and a little red bird named Jack, win him over. Campbell slowly transforms from a person who cannot see a future for himself to a self-made man with friends and an instant family.  

Flagg’s novel is definitely a feel-good and sappy read, just the kind of “too nice” and “too perfect” novel for the holiday season when everything should be magical. There is unrequited love, a feud, a huge emphasis on good food and the importance of friendship and love.  

A wonderful addition to this book were the recipes in the back, one of which is for a Kentucky Bourbon Pie.

— Review by staff, Paul Sawyier Public Library