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.

Paula Hawkin’s Girl on the Train

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3.0 Stars

Let me preface this review by saying, I absolutely loathed every single character in this goddamn book. They are all pieces of shit and I know there are people out there like this which makes me chuckle and also inexplicably angry. The only person I did not think was an asshole was Rachel, and that’s because she is pathetic. I felt bad for Rachel because she got dealt some shitty cards in life but I can’t relate with someone so dependent on another person that they destroy their own lives because they cannot live without said person.

Despite my inability to bond with any of the main characters I enjoyed this book which is super rare. If I don’t vibe with at least one character, I usually can’t bring myself to finish a book. The fact that this book was plot driven was what kept me turning the pages.

By the middle of the book, I had already guessed who had done what but I still kept reading because I was interested to see how and when the truth would be exposed. I don’t want to include any spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. The ending was a bit meh for me but I think it was because I was so engrossed in the events leading up to the unveiling of the mystery that I was expecting more. Still an entertaining, quick read.

Movie is out on October 7th. I’m interested to see how they portray this story on film. Here’s the trailer: Click (Plenty of hot dudes in the movie, haha).

I chose to pair this novel with Hendrick’s Gin because throughout the novel Rachel drinks a shitload of canned gin and tonics which always left me craving some good gin. Hendrick’s is my favorite gin. You don’t even need a mixer for it, you can just drink it straight or with just a bit of lemon.

Quotes: “I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

“Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps”

” ‘When did you become so weak?’ I don’t know. I don’t know where that strength went, I don’t remember losing it. I think that over time it got chipped away, bit by bit, by life, by the living of it.”

“I want to drag knives over my skin, just to feel something other than shame, but I’m not even brave enough for that.”

Format: Paperback.

Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

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4.0 Stars

Joy Harjo is a Mvskoke poet, musician and activist. She is a strong defender of women’s equality and is an active member of the Muscogee tribe. She uses her poetry as a “voice of the indigenous people.” I first encountered Harjo through her poetry and I’ve been hooked ever since. Harjo’s works blend the physical world with the spiritual world. She is almost a mystic, a shaman, a seer. In both her memoir and her poetry she speaks of visions and stories as though they are a part of her life and the spirits of her ancestors.

Harjo’s memoir chronicles her life from before she was born, to when she was fighting in the womb and had to be pulled into this world, to how she finally was able to envision herself above panic and poverty and eventually follow the spirit of poetry. Her storytelling in enchanting and brutally honest. The lesson that Harjo lived and relived is that through the casual abuse, rape, negligence, and fear there is still the ability to transcend beyond that, to let yourself be healed, and to bring healing to others.

While most Native literature is suffused with magical realism (for lack of a better term), Harjo is one of the few who actively sees visions. While other authors create characters like the wise grandmother or the magical elder in their works, Harjo is that character. She is the one who sees into the past of her ancestors. She’s the one who relives the life of her great-grandfather through a vision. As a reader, it is not hard to suspend my disbelief; because I want to believe. I am fascinated by the idea of being able to dream the life of your great-grandmother. I am enthralled at the thought of having sickness being eaten away by an alligator in a dream. I find it mystical and wonderful. Can I honestly say that I believe it without a doubt? Probably not. However, I want to believe; and I think it is the believing that makes it beautiful.

I’ve chosen to pair this with Black Grouse, a smokey-sweet whiskey that finishes with hints of peat and a gentle smokiness. Throughout her childhood, Harjo lived in Oklahoma and everybody seemed to have smoked. She also believed that “all of these plant medicines, like whiskey, tequila, and tobacco, are potential healers. There’s a reason they’re called spirits. You must use them carefully. They open you up. If you abuse them, they can tear holes in your protective, spiritual covering.” So pour yourself a finger of whiskey, light a cigarette and enjoy this memoir.

Memorable quotes:

“In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, the others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music.”

“I felt the presence of the sacred, a force as real and apparent as anything else in the world, present and alive, as if it were breathing. I wanted to catch hold, to remember and never forget. But the current hard reality reasserted itself. I had to have the house cleaned just right or my stepfather would punish me. So I continued on my path to forgetfulness.”

Format: Paperback.

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.

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

I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

Translated By: Eliza Griswold
Photographs By: Seamus Murphy

5.0 Stars

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Landays are two line poems that have always been an oral tradition in Afghanistan. If you’ve read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns or Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala then you’ve unwittingly read Afghan Landays. Landays are deeply embedded in the oral traditions of womenfolk in this region of the world. The couplets are passed down and around from woman to woman. They speak on Love, Grief, Separation, War and Homeland. The most important aspect of this tradition is that it is anonymous. In a region where women can be punished for speaking out against the societal norms and for even writing poetry, they subvert the patriarchy by spreading anonymous oral poetry, Landays.

After learning of a teenage girl who was forbidden to write poems and burned herself in protest, journalist Eliza Griswold and photographer Seamus Murphy journeyed to Afghanistan to investigate her death and explore the role Landays play in contemporary life. The poems they put together in this book are accompanied by more than fifty photographs, collectively expressing rage, love, war, despair, and humor; belying the misconception of women being servile mutes behind their burqas.

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I found these Landays to be passionate and clever. The couplet form allows for a concise expression of thought. A few of my favorites are as follows:

“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers. / When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”

“You sold me to an old man, father. / May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.”

“In my dream, I am the president. / When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.”

“Widows take sweets to a saint’s shrine. / I’ll bring God popcorn and beg him to take mine.”

“Separation, you set fire / in the heart and home of every lover.”

I chose to pair this book with Coppertail Brewing‘s Unholy Trippel, a Belgo-American Trippel that finishes smoothly and is immensely drinkable. There are hints of citrus and fruit that make for a nice finish.