Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with a Gun

3.0 Stars

Girl Waits with Gun is a historical fiction novel about one of the first female deputy sheriffs, Constance Kopp. The title of the book is taken from an actual headline in the early 1900s. Stewart’s prose is charming and steady. 

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I devoured this book easily enough. The Kopp sisters are fun, in a conservative 1920s kind of way. They are unmarried and living alone when they become the target of attack from a local businessman. The eldest Kopp sister, Constance, goes to extreme length (at the time) to protect her sisters and bring about justice. 

I would recommend this book as a great vacation read. It’s perfect for the plane or the boat. It’s a light, fun story that will have you engrossed cover to cover. 

I chose to pair this novel with a Hefeweizen since the Kopp sisters are part German. The Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier is a flawless beer with a smooth yeast taste that makes for perfect drinkability. 

Quotes:

“My sisters and I have no one but each other, and if anyone should take up a handgun in their defense, I will be the one to do it. “

“If I could give something to Fleurette-if I could give her one silent gift from a mother she didn’t know she had – it would be this: the realization that we have to be a part of the world in which we live. We don’t scurry away when we’re in  trouble, or when someone else is. We don’t run and hide. “

Format: Paperback.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s Fates Worse Than Death

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The picture quality is terrible for this review, but fitting for the way I read the book.  Most of the book was consumed in a poorly lit bar.  I read until words became blurry, consuming most of the novel in that sitting.  Fates Worse Than Death is the third in a series of what Vonnegut called autobiographical collages, a collection of writings that were a blend of essays and personal anecdotes all done in that undeniable Vonnegut voice.

For me I’ll always prefer Vonnegut novels although there is something to be said about his short stories as well. With that said, this collection was highly enjoyable and quite thought-provoking. Vonnegut covers such a wide range of topics but the collection spends a lot of time around the topic of death.  The suicides of various family members and friends come across time and again, as does his own attempt.  His time in WWII, especially behind a prisoner at Dresden during the unfortunate bombing is another reoccurring throughout.  Although anyone familiar with Vonnegut shouldn’t be surprised about that.

It’s tough to summarize Kurt Vonnegut, the man had a mind and a voice that was familiar while at the same time like no one else you’ve ever read. That comes through loudly in Fates Worse Than Death as it does in all his works. A lot of what is contained in the book had been published elsewhere as he uses lengthy bits of pieces he’s had published in various papers and magazines along with speeches he’s given to address his points. At times, the essays run on too long because of it and honestly, in the middle, they blur together.  I think that unless you are looking to be a Vonnegut completest this is one that can be skipped. I gave it 3.5 stars but truthfully it gained a star because of how much I love Vonnegut and possibly because of the setting where I started the book as well.

I’m pairing this with Hop God from Nebraska Brewing Company and it pairs pretty perfectly with this Vonnegut collection since it is a collage of styles with a unique flavor.  Hop God is a Belgian IPA that was aged in a Chardonnay barrel.  A Belgian IPA in itself is an interesting look at the traditional IPA but factor in the aging process in the Chardonnay barrel and it is something completely different just like Vonnegut.  Even the bottle, a 22-ounce beer bottle is a blend of a beer and wine bottle.  On a slightly morbid note that I think Kurt Vonnegut would appreciate, he has one other big thing in common with the beer, both are discontinued.  

Favorite Quotes:

“It is tough to make unhappy people happier unless they need something easily prescribed, such as food or shelter.”

“You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed.”

“Liberty is only now being born in the United States.  It wasn’t born in 1776.  Slavery was legal.  Even white women were powerless, essentially the property of their father or husband or closest male relative, or maybe a judge or lawyer.”

“Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now?  Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians.”

“We probably could have saved ourselves, but were too damned lazy to try very hard”

Format: Trade Paperback.

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

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5.0 Stars

When Breath Becomes Air is heartbreakingly beautiful. A young neurosurgeon with a love for literature is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and in his attempt to understand morality and death, he teaches us how to live.

Kalanithi’s identity in this book is as both doctor and patient or as he puts it, as subject and then direct object. He gives readers an insight into his experiences and opinions as a doctor. Then, once diagnosed, he struggles with the idea of how to live. He says, “The future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.” Always eloquent, Kalanithi recounts his struggles and his decisions. A great example, and one that I believe bears witness to the depth of his character and his capacity to live, is when he and his wife discuss if they should have a child:

” ‘Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?’ She asked. ‘Don’t you think that goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?’

‘Wouldn’t it be great if it did?’ I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

The hard choices that he had to face and the love and grief that are intermingled will bring you to tears many times throughout his book, but still, read on. Philosophical, raw, eloquent and powerful, this book’s premise is about facing death and about leaving something behind; yet what we really learn is how to live: ceaselessly striving.

Favorite quotes:

“When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.”

“I don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life – and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another soul – was obvious in its sacredness.”

“I searched for a question to bring understanding. None was forthcoming. I could only imagine the overwhelming guilt, like a tidal wave, but had lifted him up and off that building.” – describing how he felt when he found out a friend and colleague had committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the hospital.

“The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

“What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy. I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I could continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that in times I shiver and moan under the weight of it.” – Lucy, Paul’s wife

I’m pairing this book with Boulevard Brewing‘s Tell-Tale Tart, a slightly sour ale. I chose this brew because even though not everyone enjoys a sour ale, the tartness seemed to fit this sorrowful yet powerfully inspirational book. Add that the name of the brew is a play on words regarding literature, Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, and it seemed like the perfect pairing for Kalanithi since he was a lover of literature. He majored in English literature before turning to neurosurgery and always struggled with what to do first – medicine or writing. It’s clear that he was accomplished at both. As we see from this book, he was a brave and brilliant man. It was only time that was against him.

Format: Hardcover.

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.