André Brink’s A Dry White Season

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2.5 Stars

While I enjoyed reading this book, I find myself highly judgmental of the protagonist. He is a white male living in South Africa who has never really understood the racial injustices faced by his black acquaintances until a series of events happens to a black man he knows. He has been content to enjoy his privilege and status as a white man in South Africa.

Now, to be fair, this book and the voice of the character in this book are directed to white people in South Africa who do nothing about the injustices that were going on. As a woman of color, I have had to accept the role of whites “leading the way.” I’ve had to accept how because of white feminists, we are able to have colored feminists. Somebody has to pave that road. Granted, it would’ve been great to be included from the beginning. This is a more complex issue that I won’t delve too deeply into with this review. I feel as though it is the same situation in this novel. I, personally, would prefer to hear the story from the black perspective. I would like the agency and the authority to be coming from the person who the racist injustice is acted upon, instead of that of the white savior. However, that is not the purpose of this novel. And that’s OK (I guess). It is still a very interesting read. It makes a statement for justice. It denounces the acts of violence and corruption that went on in South Africa; and it did it in a white voice for a white audience, to give them perspective and to hold them accountable.

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with this novel was the “Affair.” The protagonist – a good, honest, church-going, exemplary white man – cheats on his wife at the end of the novel, but we knew that was coming. What really annoyed the shit out of me, was how the affair went down. The day before he fucked the new, younger chick, he fucked his old wife. And he was struck by how he was so shocked to see how old she had become. How after 30 years of marriage, her skin with wrinkled, her breasts were sagging, there with a mixture of revulsion and arousal…ugh… I’m sure his hairy balls weren’t dragging between his thighs. I was so glad that I already knew that this motherfucker dies at the end. (FYI, I’m the type of girl who still hates Robert Lowell for The Dolphin).

My judgmental critique on the protagonist aside, this novel does bring to light racial injustice. It highlights one of the most important relationships, that between a parent and their child. A child represents hope for the future. What happens in the black community when children are shot and killed and jailed? These are questions that in our modern, American society we are still facing. We have seen it in Ferguson, and Baltimore, and Milwaukee, and all over the United States. The questions and the struggle for racial equality and racial justice are real and relevant to not only our American society but a global society. The Impact in the black community in regards to over-policing and racial profiling and racial stereotypes are disregarded by the more privileged of our society. A Dry White Season does an excellent job of highlighting this and showing how it’s not just a problem of a few racists in power. What we fight against when we fight against racial injustice is something far greater. For the protagonist, he comes to this conclusion toward the end of the novel:

“today I realize that this is the worst of all: that I can no longer single out my enemy and give him a name. I can’t challenge him to a duel. What is set up against me is not a man, not even a group of people, but a thing, something, a vague amorphous something, an invisible ubiquitous power that inspects my mail and taps my telephone and indoctrinates my colleagues and incited the pupils against me and cuts up the tires of my car and paints signs on my door and fires shots into my home and sends me bombs in the mail, a power that follows me wherever I go, day and night, day and night, frustrating me, intimidating me, playing with me according to rules devised and whimsically changed by itself.”

We face almost the same enemy in American culture, except that instead of wiretapping phones and slashed tires; we have indoctrination through white pride, racial stereotyping, inadequate representation, redlining and an eschewing of history to favor the white male.

Memorable Quotes:

“My time and your time is passing…but the time of our children is still coming. And if they start killing our children, then what was it that we lived for?”

” ‘One always reads about this sort of thing,’ he said absently. ‘One hears so many things. But it remains apart of a totally different world really. One never expects it to happen to someone you actually know.’ ”

“But if you were given a choice, Colonel: wouldn’t you rather be a white child in this country than a black one?”

“You’re white. ” as if that summarized everything. “Hope comes easy to you”.

I’m pairing this book with Einstok‘s Icelandic Toasted Porter. This is one of my favorite beers. It has a nice toasted malt taste and a medium-bodied mouthfeel. It balances the caramel and coffee flavors well, making it a pleasant brew for almost any book.

Format: Paperback.

Danielle Fisher’s A Bit Witchy

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 1.5 Stars

I received this book in exchange for an honest opinion and review.

So I enjoyed the lead character, Lena, in the beginning for a few reasons; one of them being she wasn’t described as being an impossibly perfect girl. In fact, she’s full figured, dirty minded and incredibly clumsy. I enjoyed her self-deprecating way of speaking and thinking.

On the other hand, the men in this book are all overtly horny at all times. They all sound like fuckboys. It was funny the first few pages but after a while, it became trite and annoying. The constant objectification of women and Lena’s somewhat begrudging acceptance of it I honestly didn’t dig.

The lore of this book is hella disjointed. Since it’s the first book in the series, it should have a lot more background information that is explained clearly. The entire guardian angel premise was confusing and was not fleshed out enough. So there’s a god who assigns angels but also reincarnation is a thing but none of this is ever explained. And where did the Fates come from, are they similar to the ones in Greek mythology? In addition to this, the story didn’t flow well. The author introduces characters and then they disappear and you never hear from them again. What happened to them? The battle scene towards the end was an incoherent shit show. I had no idea what the hell was happening. The conversations throughout the book are terrible, often times cringe worthy.

I feel like this book has potential due to its interesting concept but at best this reads like an incomplete first draft. Also, I think the book needs a different title, there is nothing witchy about this book; the title is misleading.

I decided to pair this book with GolfBeer‘s G-Mac’s Celtic Style Pale Ale. There is no distinct flavor to this beer or anything that makes it stand out. The book has potential unlike this beer but I felt it was an appropriate pairing; a mediocre beer for a mediocre book.

Format: E-Book.

Joani Blank’s Femalia

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3.5 Stars

I came across Femalia by Joani Blank while reading CUNT by Musico. Feminists have been advocating this book for men and women for years to help shape people’s perspectives about their own bodies and the bodies of their partners. Femalia consists of 50 photographs of the female vulva. The purpose of this book is to show males and females that the vulva comes in many different variations and they are each perfectly formed. Sadly, some women are uncomfortable with their ladybits and worry that it doesn’t “look right.” But where do we get our expectations of what a vulva should look like? Porn? Male-dominated conversations and opinions? Women body-shaming each other? I’m sure there’s another book out there that discusses these points. However, Femalia‘s only goal lies in the photographs. There is no denying that each woman is unique and it is the hope of Blank that when men and women view these photographs they will be more comfortable with their own bodies and the bodies of their partners.

I decided to purchase this book solely on the recommendations I came across while reading feminist texts. Truthfully, the only vulva I’m intimately acquainted with is my own. There are also depictions in pornography, but we know some of those women get labiaplasty surgery to make their vulva more “acceptable.” Hearing all of this is disconcerting, especially when (as far as being a straight woman is concerned) I consider my own to be “normal” but it’s also all I know. Taking that into consideration, I decided to purchase this book and I have to agree with my fellow feminists and concur that all women should know the many different shapes and colors and variations of other women’s bodies. This way, when we hear people shaming or criticizing their own bodies or the bodies of others, we can present them with the facts. After all, if all female bodies have it, how can it be “unfeminine,” or “ugly,” or “not right looking.” We live in a society where a mom tweets a picture of sandwiches to compare her daughters “vaginas” to that of Taylor Swift. Someone never told that woman that vaginas (and by vaginas, I mean vulvas) don’t work that way. Hopefully, someone will inform her daughters. (Check out the tweet HERE and read the comments for a good laugh.)

If this review teaches you anything, it’s that the outside ladybits is the vulva; and the inside is the vagina. I never cared enough to make the distinction since “vagina” is our society’s default word for lady parts, but Blank’s book has made me change my mind, and I hope to change all of your minds! If we cannot correctly name and label our bodies, how do we protect and love ourselves, thus teaching our partners to do the same? Language holds power over us. It gives us agency and allows us to empower ourselves. Let’s not take for granted that empowered women empower women.

I’m pairing this book with Good JuJu by Left Hand Brewery because all vulvas are good juju. This beer has a crisp, fresh hint of ginger that is refreshing and light.

Format: Paperback.

JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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5 Stars!

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers.

For all the people who are criticizing this book because they were expecting a full-fledged novel, they need to chill. This book is written by three people. It is a screenplay. It is not your typical, traditional Harry Potter story. Because it is a screenplay, I thought I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself in the narrative the same way I would with fiction. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Once I got into this book, I could not stop. The world of Harry Potter is so rich and multifaceted, it’s hard to not love the story.

When I first heard about this book, I wondered how 19 years in the future would look as far as the narrative of conflict; Harry was constantly battling Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Who was this new character, Albus, supposed to have a conflict with? How was it going to hook us? Well, ingeniously, they decided to go into the past. Instead of creating some new and necessary evil, they try to take us back to right a wrong, to fix the grievance. The reason I’ll argue that this worked so well is because we get to encounter all our most beloved and most hated characters. Permitting the reader to go back in time, allows us to meet these wonderful and wonderfully awful characters, which brings about a sense of nostalgia and makes us recount all the feelings we had while reading the previous Potter books. There are certain tropes and scenes throughout the play that are reflective of the Potter series as a whole. They make the reader remember the previous books and it serves to highlight the enjoyment of this new addition. Case in point: in the third book when the dementor comes after Harry, as he is being attacked, he hears his mother’s scream; and it is haunting. In The Cursed Child, Harry, at forty-something years old, has to hear that scream again and it is devastating. It’s moments like these that made me love this book.

Now, some argue that this play is too much like bad fanfiction. For the people insisting that this is too much like a fanfiction, let’s be clear: it is not a fan fiction. Period. JK Rowling approves this message. This is the path Rowling decided the story should take; therefore it cannot be a fanfic. Those who are insisting it is a fanfic simply do not want to accept that this is the path the author has chosen for these characters. Perhaps, also, it is their first time reading a screenplay. It’s easy to see how presenting the story in this medium could make it difficult for the reader and impede them from fully appreciating it. That being said, it is well-written and the characters are fleshed out. So, if anything, it’s good fanfiction.

In conclusion, I adored this book. It was a great installment for the Potter series and a fun bonus read. There was enough wit and courage and tears that made this book genuine. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, but there were certain scenes involving old and new characters that will make you catch your breath in sorrow or in glee. Ron remains the humorous one; Hermoine the smart one, and Harry, well; he’s the one who never fights alone.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Draco (referring to his wife): she made being brave very easy, your mother.

Scorpius (showing bravery and selflessness worthy of Gryffindor): The world changes and we change with it. I am better off in this world. But the world is not better. And I don’t want that.

Draco (speaking to Harry about their sons): We have to find them – if it takes centuries, we must find our sons”

Harry (responding to Draco): love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, but what we needed.

Harry (this line is easily the one that encompasses what the entire Potter series is about): I’ve never fought alone, you see. And I never will.

I read this book while listening to the movie soundtracks to increase the magic and my reading pleasure. I was originally going to make a copycat alcoholic Butterbeer recipe (find those in link below). When we think of drinks in the Wizarding World, it’s limited to Butterbeer, Pumpkin juice and ginger beer. While we can certainly make DIY copycat recipes, I wanted to find a beer that had a nice caramel, buttery, sweet flavor reminiscent of Butterbeer but more grown up (aka:with a good deal of hops). Three liquor stores later, I found Abita ‘s Amber and it is the perfect pairing for this book. Amber is a Munich style lager brewed with pale and caramel malts. It has a smooth, malty, lightly caramel flavor and a rich amber color that will remind you of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Butterbeer without being too sweet. It’s the perfect beer for this read, so go pick up a bottle and get to reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Butterbeer recipes: Here
Format: Hardcover.

Mary M. & Bryan Talbot’s The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia

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4.0 Stars

The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia recounts the life of French feminist and anarchist Louise Michel. The narrative is structured as a frame tale, in which American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman is told the history of Michel’s work by a few women who knew her. This graphic novel explored the idealism of the Paris Commune of the 1870s and the optimistic futurism that was being displayed in the current literature.

Once I started reading, I had to stop and brush up on my French history (Joke’s on me, guys. There are annotations at the back of the book that I completely missed). Louise Michel and her revolution were fighting for the people of Paris after the fall of Napoleon III. They took over the city of Paris and tried to create a utopia where there was free marriage, in which men no longer held proprietary rights over women; equal education, where children and women could be educated and have jobs so that all classes of people had food on their tables.

This revolution was eventually taken down by the French army. The slaughter is known as the “Bloody Week” due to the thousands of France’s own people who were killed. Louise Michel was arrested and her most famous quote came the day she stood trial. She stood before the committee and said, “Since it seems that any heart that beats for liberty has the right only to a small lump of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I will not stop crying for vengeance, and I will denounce the assassins on the Board of Pardons to the vengeance of my brothers. If you are not cowards, kill me!” Although she dared them to execute her for her revolutionary ideals, she was deported. She spent two years in prison and seven in deportation before returning to France to continue her work.

There is one particular scene in the comic that is striking. It takes place during Michel’s deportation. The story is being recounted to the American feminist of how Louise Michelle helped the local indigenous people rise up against the white colonizers. The American feminist starts to say “you mean, she helped those nig-? I mean, she didn’t stick with her own kind?” At this point, Michel’s friend who is telling the story explodes, yelling “her own kind you say? She was sticking with her own kind! She stuck with the indigenous people, just as she always stuck with the oppressed! Just as she did with the rebellious, oppressed and then defeated people of Paris. They were fighting the same fight.”  What is important to take away from the scene is that so many of us American and feminists, forget that the feminist movement, in particular, Susan B Anthony, did not want the black man to have the right to vote before the white woman. Racism and classism was still very much an accepted norm. Yet, here we have the story of a 19th-century French woman, who defies those norms. That being said, we know how colonialism works. The white colonialist pitted tribe against tribe and there was massacre after massacre. Michel wrote to her friend, Victor Hugo, asking for his help and sent documents to the French newspapers exposing the massacre in the colony. This type of revolutionary, activism from a woman – a woman with no power, remember, she is a prisoner. She has been deported. But time and again she is reaching out to help those groups in need. And when she cannot help them, she exposes their oppressors.

While she is hailed as the “French grande dame of anarchy”, her real legacy lays in the Labour movement and women’s rights. Michel was decrying poverty in theoretical essays long before it was recognized as a problem. She was a school teacher, medical worker and revolutionary. After coming back to France she was continually in and out of prison, always giving lectures and writing essays on the Social Revolution. She was shot in the head for her words, and thankfully survived, although some reports say she had remnants of the bullet in her head. She continued her work until her passing at age 74.

The graphic novel format made this fun to read. It’s always nice to have history and feminism presented in a non-traditional style. The art was simple but striking.

Some of my favorite quotes are as follows:

“Knowledge, it must be presented in a manner that enlarges the horizon instead of restricting it. Girls are given a pile of nonsense supported by childlike logic, while at the same time boys have to swallow little balls of science until they choke. For both of us, this is a ridiculous education. Education can provide not only an avenue to economic independence, but also a means to hasten the recognition of women’s rights.”

“Let’s run into the red teeth of the chattering machine guns, the ash blowing around us like black butterflies!”

“I have seen criminals and whores and spoken with them/now I inquire if you believe them made as of now they are,/to drag their rags in blood and mire,/preordained an evil race./You to whom we are all pray, have made them what they are today. ”
(Ok, doesn’t that remind you of Drew Barrymore in Ever After when she says “first you make thieves and then punish them”? Well, now we know who said it first.)

I’m pairing this book with Left Hand‘s Milk Stout Nitro. I was originally going to get a light French lager but this graphic novel was dark and moving, so I opted for the rich, stoutly sweet taste of this beer. The mild coffee aromas coupled with the sticky sweetness of the beer perfectly matched the mood and tone of this novel.

Format: Hardcover.

Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl

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3.5 Stars

Few if any authors capture obsessive and hapless male characters as well as Nick Hornby, so I was hesitant to start Funny Girl after picking up my copy because Hornby tries to capture female characters as well but often falls a little flat.  It was a wonderful surprise for me at how wonderful Hornby’s titular funny girl, Sophie Straw, really is.  Born Barbara Parker, the character is funny, charismatic, and sublimely well rounded.  After winning the Miss Liverpool title in the first few pages of the book, Barbara realizes that isn’t the life she wants. She relinquishes the title and runs to London where she wants to be the next Lucille Ball.

Barbara, now going by the stage name Sophie Shaw goes to read for a BBC comedy and the writers fall in love with her presence and rewrite the script around her.  At this point Hornby takes his only misstep, a pretty large one, he shifts the story from not just Sophie but to the two writers Tony and Bill, the producer Dennis and even her costar Clive.  It’s sad because Sophie is such a wonderful character but also understandable as Hornby starts to tackle a lot more than just a quirky sitcom star.

The setting is 1960s London where homosexuality is a crime, a woman is just meant to look good and find a man, and comedy is viewed as an inferior form of  entertainment. Hornby uses Sophie’s small town upbringing as a contrast with the views of the optimistic and worldly Dennis and the jaded Clive.  The big reason for the shift is we see this world through the eyes of Tony a bisexual who has opted to be happy in the marriage to his wife June while Bill struggles with both his homosexuality, as well as his desire to create something society deems as real art.

Hornby manages to discuss a lot of serious issues such as sexuality, sexism, repression, elitism, and so much more all while still giving a fun, enjoyable read.  Even with all their faults and failures, he loves these characters that he has created but none more than Sophie. “She wasn’t the sort of catch one could take home and show off to people; she was the sort of catch that drags the angler off the end of the pier and pulls him out to sea before tearing him to pieces as he’s drowning. He shouldn’t have been fishing at all, not when he was so ill-equipped.” That line wasn’t just about a potential male suitor, but all the guys that encounter her as she is the catalyst for where their lives go from here.

I decided to pair this book with Passion Fruit Kicker by Green Flash Brewery.  I don’t usually drink wheat or fruit beers, so it felt appropriate for such an ambitious novel from Hornby.  It helps that this new experience in both beer and novel came from consistent favorites in Green Flash and Nick Hornby.

Format: Trade Paperback

Naguib Mahfouz’s Arabian Nights and Days

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4.0 Stars

In Arabian Nights and Days, Mahfouz entwines both social and individual morality. This novel really made me think and question how I view people, society, and morality. If these characters abandoned their beliefs effortlessly in these exceptional circumstances, then one has to wonder: did they ever really have any morals? Were they ever inherently good or were they only good because they had to be? This book was published in 1979 and is still insanely relevant and will continue to be as long as humans remain… well, human.

Mahfouz utilizes genies to explore and analyze humanity’s willingness to abandon their morality and conversely the deep-rooted good people who do the exact opposite. I couldn’t help but repeatedly think about The Walking Dead while reading this. Although both seem very different at first glance, the concept of morality is examined in both narrations. When the zombies attack, everyone and everything goes to shit. Once viewed as noble individuals suddenly became trigger-happy rapists and selfish, thieving, liars.

Throughout Arabian Nights and Days, Mahfouz reminds us that simply because someone presents an appearance of being moral it does not necessarily mean they are. Morality is found etched in a person’s very being; it cannot be altered, regardless of the situation. It should not matter what may happen to that individual, they will keep those beliefs and principles. This is important to view in society today where there are numerous wolves in sheep’s clothing and many cowards disguised as heroes, whether it is in politics, work, or even within our own families. Mahfouz allows the reader to ponder these moral issues from the safe distance of an observer. Towards the beginning of the novel, Umm Saad tells Sanaan al-Gamali, “Under the skin of certain humans lie savage beasts.” This sentence sums up the entire novel. When an individual is put into a dire situation, one can truly view what makes up the person. Arabian Nights and Days leaves the reader wondering if they, themselves, are in fact savage beasts.

I chose to pair this novel with Blue Moon‘s White IPA and (just like the novel) I surprisingly really dug it. So this beer bears similar qualities to other IPAs but the flavoring has a certain twist to it, I’m assuming it’s the exclusive hop strain, Huell Melon. I assumed this was going to be a shitty IPA but I was wrong. Just like some people may seem to be really moral and noble, they may just be deviants and cowards. You never know, haha.

Format: Paperback.