How to be a Woman ~ Caitlin Moran

  • Title: How to be a Woman
  • Author: Caitlin Moran
  • Genre: Humor, Non-fiction
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.


Review:  Warning: This review is rated R and may contain adult themes and language, however, so does the book.

I have to admit that the publisher’s marketing totally worked on me with this book. They had me at with the “British Bossy Pants” buzz (I do so love Tina Fey). Therefore, going into it, I did not actually know much about Caitlin Moran other than two basic facts: 1. she’s British and 2. she is one cool looking chick! Now that I am finished with the book, I not only feel like I know a great deal about Caitlin (I’m sure she won’t mind if I call her Caitlin), but I am fairly certain that should we ever meet we would be instant BFFs.

How to be a Woman is a not only a humorous retelling of bits of Cailtin’s life, but it is also a commentary on the current status of women in western society and present day feminism. It is was interesting how many times I would find myself laughing over her words, only to realize that there was a rather profound point wrapped up in that clever wit. I have to thank Caitlin for being able to put so many of my thoughts on feminism into words far more eloquent than I could ever achieve and with enough to humor that they just might have a chance of being heard.

Yes, Caitlin, I totally agree, it is NOT too much to ask for a woman to actually enjoy an orgasm in porn. And enough with the shaving! I support the pro “furry muff” platform. You can groom and get good camera shots without creating an obsession with pre-pubescent looking woman parts. They do not match the ridiculously over-priced stiletto shoes and matching handbags that so many women are convinced they need. Meanwhile, you’ll find me bare foot and shaking a tail feather with Caitlin on the dance floor at a wedding whose debt will likely outlast the marriage. Cynical much? Perhaps, but I agree with Caitlin’s optimism about women’s potential for equality and her view that the responsibility now lies with women to make that change.

Beyond her opinions on feminism, Ms. Moran does not hold back when it comes to sharing details about herself throughout the book. I commend Caitlin for her courage to bare herself to the world to illustrate her many well-made points. It was refreshing to see someone with celebrity status to be so unapologetically honest about their life. Sigh, I believe I have developed yet another girl crush.

This book has broad appeal (get it – BROAD appeal?) beyond the card carrying feminist crowd. One could honestly read the book for just the humor and remain happily shallow, overlooking the deeper messages. That is the point of the book isn’t it? When it comes down to it, it is about the freedom to pursue a life that makes one happy. Well done, Caitlin.

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The American Craft Beer Cookbook ~ John Holl

  • Title: The American Craft Beer Cookbook
  • Author: John Holl
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Net Galley ARC
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  The pleasure of going to the local pub or craft brewery for a pint and a delicious meal can now be recreated at home with John Holl’s collection of 175 recipes that all taste amazingly great with beer. From pub grub and barbecue to regional specialties and even breakfast fare, many of these dishes use beer as an ingredient, and all of them can be paired with your favorite brews. The recipes were contributed by brew pubs, craft brewers, and other beer lovers across the United States, and you’ll love the new twists on traditional favorites, such as Slow-Cooked Dopple Bock BBQ Meatballs or Chicken Wings with Bacon BBQ Sauce, as well as wildly unexpected recipes like Beermosas, Beer Ice Cream Floats, and Chocolate Jefferson Stout Cupcakes. Holl even includes 12 recipes for brewing your own beer at home.

Review:  This is a bit of a departure for me to review a cookbook, as I typically review fiction. However, being a bit of a foodie and a total beer snob, I was eager to get an advanced look at this title and throw in my two cents. I got to opportunity to get my hands on a digital advanced review copy through Net Galley.

My first impression is that the images in the book are stunning. Does this say anything about the content of book? Not really, but in a way it does. It says to me that this book is a labor of love and someone put in the effort to do it right. Oddly, the cover presented on the ARC is only so-so, considering the quality of the imagery throughout the book. My main problem with the cover is that the visual impact says “super bowl party,” whereas the contents of book cater to the connoisseur.

Don’t let the premise of this book fool you. The author may be sharing recipes from brew pubs, but they are far from standard pub fare. The result is that the beer suggestions AND the recipes both have true foodie appeal. From breakfast to dessert, sauces to side dishes, the book covers all of your major dining categories. Some of the recipes use craft beer as in ingredient, but many are just a great compliment a tasty brew.

There are so many recipes that sound great, but here are a few that really make me salivate:

  • Beer-mosa – just as it sounds, a spin-off of the popular mimosa replacing champagne with beer
  • Bourbon Sweet Potato Tarts with Imperial Stout Sauce
  • Arrogant Bastard Ale Avocado Tacos
  • Curried Pumpkin Chicken Soup
  • Imperial Meat Pie
  • Truffled Potatoes – they had me at truffle
  • Pale Ale Pineapple Brown Sugar Cupcakes

The layout of the book is both visually appealing and easy to digest. Each recipe has information that is distinctive, so you can tell whether it is an ingredient list, instructions, beer suggestions, or general information about the recipe and/or brewer. The beer suggestions are particularly nice, offering specific brand suggestions as well as broad categories for each recipe. The profiles for the brewers/brewpubs provide great information providing in a witty tone of voice.

The book ends with some great reference information for the craft beer lover. The reference to all of the brewers and chefs featured in the book provides and easy way for readers to look up their favorite beer and recipes when travelling. There is also a fun road trips section, although a true craft beer travel guide could fill volumes. The beer festival list is a bit weak, there are SO many festivals and so few referenced in the list. I was hoping to see a recipe index included in the back of the book, fingers crossed that they include one in the final version that goes to press.

This is the first cookbook in a long time to peak my interest. These days, I am much more likely to look online for cooking ideas. The American Craft Beer Cookbook appeals to more than just my inner culinary genius, it also engages my interest in craft beer. The book has enough also has enough visual appeal to become a coffee table book, rather than just being relegated to my cookbook shelf. The suggested price of $23.95 is a great value.

*DISCLAIMER: This book was provided to me at no cost by the publisher as an advanced review copy through Net Galley.*

 

Overwatch ~ Allen Gray

  • Title: Overwatch
  • Author: Allen Gray
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Author
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  “Allen Gray takes the complex thing of war and unearths its vulnerable moments. These are small stories that cast a knowing gaze at a particular world. The faces are nameless but immediate. Time stands still in these poems as the reader slowly realizes he’s become a witness. A deeply moving collection.” –Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde, Poet & Artist

“Overwatch combines the experiences of war with the home front; so seamless in tone. Apt, given the repeated tours of duty required in our current wars.” –John Roche, author of Road Ghosts

Allen Gray’s Overwatch depicts war as we’re not used to seeing it–from the soldier’s eye, from someone who experienced it, from letters and dreams and the ghosts who watch over their buddies. These poems show that war, anywhere, is still war, that the hardships faced in one war aren’t so different from the hardships faced in another.” –Liz N. Clift, Poet & Former Managing Editor of Flyway: Journal Writing & Environment.

Review:  I know the author Allen Gray from a website called Scribophile. It’s a place that writers can join and share their works in progress and receive various feedback. I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing several pieces of Allen’s writing in the past and delighted to review his first collection of poetry.

How shall I summarize this poetry collection? The over arcing theme is war. It’s about the soldiers who join up with our military forces with the command to Protect and Serve. It’s about the families of the soldiers. It’s about the events of war and the everyday situations that soldiers live in. Every day isn’t about explosions and death but those elements color everything. It’s about coming back home and finding out how alien home has become. If home has become alien, does that mean you’re alien to it all as well? Does that mean you only belong in the ashes and frames of what you have left behind? And if you don’t want to go back there, are your memories the only reality you have left to hold?

Titles always matter. They’re very important part of a story or book in all formats. In poetry, titles take on an added depth that isn’t as apparent or present in other writing. Sometimes, the title of a poem is the only clue to tie in the disjointed words and images that is in the piece. This proves to be true in many of the poems that are in Overwatch but it doesn’t always help. There are a handful that leaves me wondering and questioning what it’s about. I’m lucky. Why? Because if the questions drive me TOO crazy, I can always turn to Allen and ask him for clarification or an answer.

You may find this review a bit disorganized and hard to understand. I apologize if that becomes the case but it’s hard to write a review about this collection without writing massive words on each piece. Instead of an in-depth review, the following is a list of poems that called a strong response out of me and maybe a clue to what that response was or the questions that lined my mind’s eye.

  • Poem Desert Poem – Great imagery, stark. Some parts, it seemed like you could feel it. My favorite are the stand alone lines. Each stanza is a build up to make that one line shine. I read the stanzas without the solo lines. I read the solo lines without the stanzas. Neither approach is as powerful as reading them together as one.
  • A Soldier Severs the String – What a CRAPPY image that blossoms into my mind as I read the words that strike an insidious sorrow across my heart. Who can be okay with a wasteful death? You don’t need talk about blood to know the bone shattering blood splatter caused by pointing a barrel up against your jaw.
  • Red Sunflower – An inarticulate and vivid reminder of death.
  • Life Begins – Ordinary images and words that call my own memories of cooking to the forefront. The crackle-sizzle of oil can sound like a dance. Once that oil splats on you, YOU are doing a dance! There’s a joy to cooking, a danger to the process and at it’s very core a fundamental part of living. Everyone has to eat.
  • Not Everyman – Heartbreaking. You can leave a war or fight but it may not leave you. The memories can be more alive than life moving around you. What happens when no one can break through the memories?
  • After the Shock – When does the line become clear? The child standing in front of you and talking to you or the memory of bodies filling plastic bags and the jagged line of death?
  • Panic – A horrible nightmare is what this passage screams out at me. Question remains: Does the nightmare stop when you wake up?
  • You are There – Memories steal time away from the present and throttles you back in the past. It’s only with conscious effort that you can remember that you are HERE rather than there.
  • The Counter at the Gate – Terror doesn’t occur just at night, in the darkness. Terror can happen in the daylight, by your driveway, in your neighborhood and to anyone, including children. People forget that the every day can be the dangerous day. Yet if you lived in terror of each day, what kind of life would you have left in place?
  • Awake Now – Discordant images and actions piled together in a hill of emotions and images that don’t aligned nicely against one another. However, each reading of the different pieces brings an inelegant order to the mess and causes lines to connect where there was only confusion before.
  • A Cardinal Teaches at the Abbey – Quick but poignant descriptions of nature. “What does the cardinal teach?” is the question left unanswered for me.

When people think about conflict and war, they don’t necessarily think about the silence, the down time and the waiting. The minutes that pass on duty while nothing happens and yet you’re suppose to be super vigilant in case something, anything does occur. People may forget that families travel into these dangerous areas and there are people with children and lives living over there in the middle of war.

I’m sure it’s strange to think that waking up in the bed of your room, in your house, can be strange. That it can be disorienting to put on regular clothes, fix pancakes for breakfast and to only worry about what your child needs for the day. Playing catch, buying groceries, going to a baseball game and seeing a movie are all normal things. But what’s normal to a person who hasn’t had those bits be a part of their life for a long time? What’s normal when you’re conditioned to react to high tension scenarios?

If you haven’t wondered that before, maybe you will once you read Overwatch. This is a powerful collection of poems that directs the reader to think about the every day in a different light. It’s about showing you the inside fears and thoughts of soldiers who have experienced more than we’ll ever know.

By no means is this book a light read. It’s dark, painfully colorful, touching and thought provoking. I recommend this to anyone who has a family member in the military, who is a soldier, studies war or would like a peek into what veterans may think, fear and face.

For more about the author, you can read my Author Interview with Allen Gray on SSV.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops ~ Jen Campbell

  • Title: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
  • Author: Jen Campbell
  • Genre: Non-Fiction, Humor
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  From the hugely popular blog, a miscellany of hilarious and peculiar bookshop moments:
‘Can books conduct electricity?’
‘My children are just climbing your bookshelves: that’s ok… isn’t it?’

A John Cleese Twitter question [‘What is your pet peeve?’], first sparked the ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ blog, which grew over three years into one bookseller’s collection of ridiculous conversations on the shop floor.

From ‘Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?’ to the hunt for a paperback which could forecast the next year’s weather; and from ‘I’ve forgotten my glasses, please read me the first chapter’ to’Excuse me… is this book edible?’

This full-length collection illustrated by the Brothers McLeod also includes top ‘Weird Things’ from bookshops around the world.

Review:  It’s a collection of stories about the weird (stupid) things that customers say in bookstores.

I laughed out loud A LOT! You should try this book out if you’re looking for something fun and quick. Some of the stories are just plain terrible but anyone with sense & literary know how will be pretty pleased and laughing by reading this book.

The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse ~ Pierre Abélard, Heloise

  • Title: The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
  • Author: Pierre Abelard, Heloise
  • Genre: Classic, Autobiography
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  The story of the relationship between Abélard and Héloïse is one of the world’s most celebrated and tragic love affairs. It is told through the letters of Peter Abélard, a French philosopher and one of the greatest logicians of the twelfth century, and of his gifted pupil Héloïse. Through their impassioned writings unfolds the story of a romance, from its reckless, ecstatic beginnings through to public scandal, an enforced secret marriage and its devastating consequences. These eloquent and intimate letters express a vast range of emotions from adoration and devotion to reproach, indignation and grief, and offer a fascinating insight into religious life in the Middle Ages.

This is the revised edition of Betty Radice’s highly regarded translation, in which Michael Clanchy, the biographer of Abélard, updates the scholarship on the letters and the lovers. This volume includes Abélard’s remarkable autobiography and his spiritual advice to Héloïse and her nuns, as well as a selection of the ‘lost love letters’ of Abélard and Héloïse, letters between Héloïse and Peter the Venerable, two of Abélard’s hymns, a chronology, notes and maps.

Review:  The story summation of Abelard and Heloise sounds interesting and beautiful in it’s fashion. I really enjoyed reading the beginning introduction. The letters are chock full of drama and syrupy puppy dog like enslavement to the idea of love. This story should be profound, deep and full of bittersweet moments. Instead, the deep emotions and thoughts that are expressed in the letters make me think less of the characters & the tragic affair. It reinforces my response to the Sonnets. High school drama at it’s nauseating worse. Except this is a biography and a true tale about two people.

Was I ever that dramatic? I hope not! Well, maybe I have but it’s not written in a book that anyone else would read. 😉

The Love Sonnets of Abélard and Héloïse ~ Pierre Abélard, Heloise

  • Title: The Love Sonnets of Abelard and Heloise
  • Author: Pierre Abelard, Heloise
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 1 out of 5

Description:  This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.

Review:  From a preservation standpoint, I agree that it’s very important to keep old work alive. The illustrative work deserves 3 stars at least!

On a personal note, this is one of the most amateur, poetic pieces I’ve read in a long time. It goes to show that you can write something rather trite and have it published no matter the time. The whole thing sounds like teenage angst fighting a losing battle with lust and infatuation. Never mind that it’s a love affair between an older man and a young woman.

Another adventure into the classics completed.