ARC Review: Nose by James Conaway

Brooke Banks | 12:00 AM | | | | | |


Title: Nose
Author: James Conaway
Categories: Adult, Literary Fiction, Mystery, 
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Published: March 12th 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books
Source: Won a free review copy from a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway
Rating:  (Two Stars)
Recommend? Yes, for those who love and/or interested in wine, Napa Valley, those who like slower character driven novels, mysteries.
  Bonfire of the Vanities meets Sideways—a saga of secrets, family, and a mystery bottle of wine that could change everything foreverIn a gorgeous wine valley in northern California, the economic downturn has put a number of dreams on hold.  But above it all is esteemed critic Clyde Craven-Jones, a man whose ego nearly surpasses his substantial girth. As the novel opens he blind taste-tastes a sampling of Cabernets and to his confounded delight discovers one worthy of his highest score (a 20, on the Craven-Jones-on-wine scale), an accolade he's never before awarded.

But the bottle has no origin—and that's a problem for a renowned critic. An investigation into the mystery Cabernet commences, lead by the critic's wife, Claire, and a couple of underdogs—one a determined throw-back to ancient viticulture, the other a wine-stained, Pygmalion-esque scribbler—who by wit and luck rise on incoming tides of money, notoriety and, yes, love.

The stage is set for this true theatre of the varietals—where the reader joins the local vinous glitterati and subterranean enthusiasts hanging out in a seedy bar called the Glass Act. Soon Clyde Craven-Jones finds himself in a compromised position in a fermentation tank, a prominent family finds its internal squabble a public scandal, and a lowly vintner seeks redemption for a decades-old wrongdoing. This is a witty, delectable, and fast-paced novel that, like a good Cabernet, only grows more enjoyable once opened.

The List
...because brevity is not my strong suit


  • very detailed and informative about wine and it is very approachable. I’m a total n00b on the subject and was able to understand it and found it fascinating
  • the second half really ramps things up and I enjoyed watching the characters scramble to deal with the consequences
  • very descriptive writing, which mostly worked and I’m sure will be well received if you like the style
  • the characters are very dynamic, interesting and flawed people
  • the end was appropriate, caused me to smirk, and I can’t see it ending any other way


  • figured out the mystery behind the bottle quick enough
  • thought it was too slow, though it does pick up half way through for me and built wonderfully to the end
  • didn’t feel the impact of the ending for the characters, leaving me to just shrug it off
  • didn’t care and wasn’t moved by the characters (though there were some good moments and aspects of them)
  • the writing was hit or miss for me - sometimes I found myself wonderfully wrapped up with the vivid imagery and sometimes my eyes just drifted off the page, though your mileage may vary
  • wanted more than the promised family drama, which was sparse at first but it does become the main focus in the second half

My Thoughts

I’m giving this book two stars because despite good elements I didn’t particularly enjoy it, even though those elements are usually what I like. There’s hardly anything particularly wrong or irritating but I find out it slow and uncompelling. Indeed, I’m sure Nose will be amazingly good to a lot of people. However, my big problem was indifference. I just didn’t care at all, apparently it’s just not my kind of book. I think this will be different for people who are more into wine, Napa Valley and those who relate more with the characters. Nose is not snobbery looking down at the little people drinking wine but pokes fun of those who have that attitude. I didn’t personally find it fast paced like the blurb said and it actually took  awhile to get into it. It wasn’t until like halfway through the book when the aforementioned scene of ”Clyde Craven-Jones finds himself in a compromised position in a fermentation tank”  did it really start to pick up for me. It does get better as it goes after all the people, places, back history, and little intertwined connections are detailed out in the first half. Once we have a full understanding of the whole scope of things, the character’s internal meanderings finally start showing effect in events. Well, bigger events at any rate. Usually I like this kind of character driven novel but due to my own personal preference in other areas that trend didn’t win out for Nose.

I originally entered to win Nose because the blurb certainly seemed interesting and I hadn’t read a book about wine, or the Napa Valley before. I wanted to explore an area I hadn’t been and the family saga mystery drama intrigued me. I admittedly went in knowing next to nothing about wine and unfortunately my only tasting experience was with a cheap really bitter port that I didn’t like. Nose is very informative in all things wine - from the making, the environment, the marketing, and the sensations. It wasn’t hard to follow or understand. It gave me a different perspective and appreciation for wine. The details didn’t bog me down and it was very interesting. This is one of the best parts of the book. The family drama I feel I missed out on for the most part and kind of wished I had gotten more of it, though that might’ve affected the sneak attack effectiveness of certain things. There’s a little portion discussed before the fermentation tank incident and afterwards it did focus more on this family aspect. My wanting more is most likely due to that part of the book being the most compelling. The mystery about the wine bottle part take long to find out since it’s the only logical conclusion I could find and the cast of characters isn’t that big. This figuring out probably factored into why I found the book so slow and unmoving.  The mystery about the family drama - who’s doing what and why - I didn’t figure out on my own. That’s probably another reason why the second half of Nose is what I enjoyed most.

The Characters - this is where the big disconnect happens for me. The characters aren’t bad. They are realistic, flawed, and dynamic.  I didn’t find them unlikable or unpleasant to read about. I actually liked a few things about them, but I didn’t connect with them. I just wasn’t able to feel anything for the characters, and couldn’t even arise to hating the antagonists. Sure, there were moments I disagreed with (I think Sarah was just going through grief and her breakdown wasn’t about being love, though I saw the attraction) and some moments where I didn’t like them (particularly the antagonists), but overall I thought they were fine.

The Writing - is very descriptive with long sentences full of details. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it droned on and took me out of the story. Again, not technically flawed but just not really my thing. This is most likely the underlying reason why I couldn’t connect with the characters. It’s flowery but fits the tone, perspectives and character narration so it’s not excessive to the point of being purple prose. (I don’t think...) I just was torn from appreciating the slow, ponderous writing at times and in general itching for it to speed up so the story would finally go somewhere.  

The Plot - I discussed this a bit earlier but I did like the second half of the book more than the first half due to bigger happenings. The first part is all about setup and build up, which I’m usually all for but, again, this trend of mine didn’t win out for Nose.I enjoyed the second act turn of events and watching people struggle to deal with the aftermath. The ending felt circular and not very satisfying. Maybe a sarcastic smirk arose from it but it wasn’t really fulfilling. The main conflict is resolved and it leaves some happy or not-so happy people. It’s realistic and makes sense, and I’d probably be disappointed if it did the sappy all ecstatic ending. However, without connecting to the characters ( which is important for this ending to have an impact) I feel like a lot was left to be desired. That’s holds true for almost every part of the book and I’m not sure if liking which aspect (the writing or the characters) would have helped most. Or maybe if I still had the need to figure out the wine bottle mystery I wouldn’t have found it boring for the first half.


 2 Stars = It’s okay but not really my thing. Didn’t love, enjoy or hate it. I’m indifferent, though there’s clearly good points to the book, due to being torn by the writing style and not connecting with the characters. I can recommend it to try for others who might be a better fit to this book than I was -  like wine lovers, those interested in wine or Napa Valley, or for people who want a mystery character driven novel. 


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