Hello my lovely readers!
My what a busy month April was over here. I’m afraid that reflected some on the blog, with less posts (particularly reviews) than I would have liked. I’m hoping that May will be a bit better planned around here. I’ve been very busy with work; I even had a trip to Pittsburgh for a conference. (If you follow me on Instagram or Snapchat (username: opinionsofawolf), you saw some of the fun details of the trip and probably learned a few things about Pittsburgh!) But I still found the time to stumble upon a few new favorite things.
Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I had a small bit of free time from my conference, and when I googled what to do in Pittsburgh I found this. It’s an eclectic collection of various history exhibits to do with Pittsburgh, and one of the collections is all about Heinz the company, since the founder was from Pittsburgh. How cool is that? Part of the exhibit is this ketchup bottle made of ketchup bottles. I learned a lot about Pittsburgh from this history center, including: the liver transplant was invented there, Jehovah’s Witnesses started there, Andy Warhol and Heinz Ketchup were born there, and Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) lived and died there. I really enjoyed this quirky museum and have had a lot of fun telling people about it.
Seeing Wild Belle in Concert
A few months ago I was moderately obsessed with the Major Lazer song featuring Wild Belle called “Be Together.” My husband noticed the band was coming to a venue near us, so he surprised me by getting us some tickets. This particular venue is nice because it’s rather small, so even if you’re in the back of the crowd you still get a great view. Both of us thought that the back-up singer/tambourine player and the tom-tom player were particularly impressive. They could so easily start their own group.
Hanging out on our new porch
Our apartment didn’t come with a porch, but our landlord chose to install one starting last fall. This month the workers finally finished it! Which means we get to grill at times when we’re not camping. But also, we’ve discovered our cat is totally willing to put up with being in her come with me kitty harness in order to hang out in the sunshine. What this means for book blogger/author truly is that I can hang out in the sunshine with my husband and a purring cat while I read and write, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
After wanting one since I first heard of a Gameboy as a kid, I finally broke down and bought the newest 3DS, along with one game: Frogger 3D. I have some gaming systems, but I don’t use them much, because I like to hang out with my husband while he does things. I love how portable the 3DS is, and how easy it is to start and stop games. I don’t have to turn on a system and wait for things to boot up. I can just open and close it. On days when I really feel like I need to have a win in something, I’ll play a round of Frogger. Oh, and if you’re wondering, the XL has a larger screen, and I’m really glad I went for it over the regular sized screen.
And finally, my favorite book since the last episode.
The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
This humorous chick lit with a surprising heart of gold and inspiring message really hit me where I needed it this month. Basically, a high-powered lawyer has a freak-out and winds up working as the help in a wealthy home and falling for the gardener. It was the exact stress relief and encouragement I needed, both giving me laughter and helping me to refocus my priorities.
That’s it for April. Be sure to tune in next month for episode 4 of Wolfy’s Favorites!
What were some of your favorite things in the month of April? Did you have a favorite read? What’s the most entertaining museum you’ve ever visited? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Book Review: American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle and William Doyle (Audiobook narrated by John Pruden)
Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL responsible for the book American Sniper, was working on a labor of love at the time of his death–this book. His wife and co-author worked together to complete the book (his wife providing an introduction of context). Kyle loved America and guns, and here he combines the two together to present the history of the US through the lens of guns.
The idea of this book is nothing new. I certainly studied a lot of guns/weapons and their impact while working on my History BA (concentration in US History). But as both a US History and gun lover, I was excited by the idea of a short book that would let me revisit both topics. I do wish I had paid more attention to the fact that this book is a co-authorship between a Navy SEAL and a Fulbright Scholar though, since I personally tend to find books written from this type of partnership to be a bit frustrating. I certainly found that this book lands in that category.
The book starts with an introduction by Chris Kyle’s wife, Taya, providing context of why he wanted to write this book and how far along he was on it. I wound up pausing to look up his death, because I honestly didn’t realize the American Sniper had died. I wish this book had mentioned, at least simply, how he died.
The guns covered in the book are: American Long Rifle, Spencer Repeater, Colt Single-Action Army Revolver, Winchester 1873 Rifle, M1903 Springfield, M1911 Pistol, Thompson Submachine Gun, M1 Garand, .38 Special Police Revolver, and M16 Rifle. Kyle clearly knows and understands how guns work. I found the descriptions of these guns to be the best-written portions of the books. In particular his explanation of shotguns (single-action or repeating) was the first I’ve heard that had me really grasping how they work.
The quality of the history writing comes and goes, though, and I think that’s evidence of places Doyle had a stronger hand on the writing. Some of the historical episodes are presented clearly, factually, and without obvious bias. Others, though, beg for an editing pass either for removal or acknowledgement of bias or to tighten up the focus or provide a better story arc. Historical nonfiction can still have a story arc, something that Kyle clearly understands, but he tends to go off on rants about certain parts of the story that he finds most interesting leaving the reader a bit lost or frustrated. The passage that I found most frustrating was when Kyle chose to focus on a soldier in the Revolutionary War era because he descended from him. Sure, that soldier used the gun being focused upon, but so did practically everyone else at the time. It read a bit like your uncle doing the family genealogy, rather than a serious historical nonfiction. What I found most jarring though was the rapid switching between this style of writing and more typical mainstream serious historical nonfiction.
I felt the audiobook narrator did a good job embodying Kyle’s voice, and was easy to listen to.
Overall, readers looking for greater quick knowledge of the guns used at pivotal points in US History would be the most likely to benefit from this read. Those looking for more serious historical analysis or typical historical writing should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
I know quite a few of my readers are into new f/f fiction and romance, and this is a lovely intersection of the two. I particularly like that Michelle cares so much about creating a f/f story where the central conflict isn’t coming from the relationship itself. Take it away, Michelle!
In the rare moments when Deanna Scott isn’t working as the moderator for Wolf’s Run, an online werewolf role-playing game, she wanders the local forest trails with her golden retriever, Arthur, and daydreams about Jaime, the attractive, enigmatic woman who lives upstairs.
As Wolf Run’s “den mother,” Deanna is accustomed to petty online drama. But when threats from an antagonistic player escalate, Deanna wonders if her awesome online job could be riskier than she’d ever imagined—and if her new girlfriend knows more about this community than she had realized.
Genre: paranormal romance, f/f
What makes this book unique in its genre?
The Better to Kiss You With is a paranormal romance with queer girls, werewolves, and gaming! It is set in Vancouver, BC, and tells the story of Deanna, who is the moderator of an online werewolf role playing game. She lives and works in a tiny one bedroom apartment with her dog Arthur, and falls for the attractive and mysterious woman who is her upstairs neighbour. When a player from the game Deanna works for escalates his threats, Deanna shrugs them off, but her new girlfriend has reason to believe that the player’s bite is worse than his bark…
What was one important thing to you at the center of writing this book?
It was important to me to write a F/F romance where the source of conflict didn’t come from within the relationship. As I was writing The Better to Kiss You With, GamerGate was in full swing, and I was reading over and over again about women who were experiencing serious online threats, harassment, and stalking. It infuriated me that these women were experiencing very real terror but had had so little recourse, while the perpetrators of the threats faced with little to no consequences for their actions. Thanks to these men, because it’s important to note that the perpetrators of this kind of violence are primarily men, I didn’t have to look too hard to find my bad guy.
Thanks so much for being featured here on Opinions of a Wolf, Michelle!
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New Release Friday is a sponsored post but I only feature books on New Release Friday that I believe would interest readers of this blog. Book reviews are never sponsored. Find out more about the sponsored post policy here.
Book Review: Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Audiobook narrated by Sarah Hepola)
“It’s such a savage thing to lose your memory, but the crazy thing is, it doesn’t hurt one bit. A blackout doesn’t sting, or stab, or leave a scar when it robs you. Close your eyes and open them again. That’s what a blackout feels like.”
For years Sarah Hepola ignored her blackouts. She was a young woman with a successful writing career living in New York City. She was empowered, and part of embracing equality was drinking like one of the guys. But while littering her writing with references to drinking and laughing off her drunken escapades, she actually spent her daytimes cleaning up after her blackouts. Figuring out how she scraped up her knees or tracking down her purse. Eventually, she realized that drinking wasn’t making her the life of the party and one of the guys. It was stealing who she was, and it was time to get herself back.
I have a thing for addiction memoirs (and addiction documentaries….movies…tv shows…). But I have often found myself puzzled by the female drinking memoir. Often presented as a woman (usually a wife and mother) who appears to have it all and hides all of her drinking because women don’t drink. I’m sorry, but as a Millennial, that’s not the kind of drinking I’ve seen women in my generation partake in. Drinking was considered unladylike by generations even as recent as the one right before ours (that my brother is in). But in mine? What I often saw was women proving their coolness by keeping up with the guys. These women would never hide wine. They’d take shots and get praised for it. So when I saw this memoir talking about the impact on women of drinking like one of the guys; of how this equality of substance abuse is really impacting women, I had a sense it was going to be something good and insightful, and I was right.
Sarah Hepola shows the reader through a clear lens exactly how the different perceptions of women and alcohol impacted her drinking, and thus how they might impact other women. The book starts with some context of how young women are both encouraged by their peers to binge drink but then are also blamed by them when bad things happen to them when they are drunk. She then moves on to talking about her own childhood when she would steal sips of beer from open cans in the fridge, and how her parents never suspected she was sneaking beer because little girls wouldn’t do that. She then gradually brings us up through time and shows us how with drinking she was subconsciously trying to pursue both fitting in and equality. She drank to fit in and be cool in college. She drank with co-workers on her male-dominated first job to be one of the guys and get the same networking opportunities they got after work by going out for beers. She liked that it wasn’t necessarily feminine. She liked feeling strong and empowered.
By embracing something that is perceived of by the culture as hyper-masculine, like binge drinking, women are seeking to be taken seriously and viewed as equals. Women do this in other areas too. Just look at power suits or the short haircuts preferred by women in positions of power. Our culture devalues what is perceived of as feminine and elevates what is perceived of as masculine. There are many issues with this, which I can’t go into in a short book review, but what matters about this for women and alcohol is that women’s bodies just don’t biologically process alcohol the same way men’s bodies do. Sarah Hepola goes into this in quite some detail, but essentially, women get drunker faster on less alcohol than men do, which means women black out more easily, and blackouts are dangerous. They make anyone vulnerable, but they make women particularly vulnerable to things like date rape.
Sarah Hepola does a much more eloquent job in the book than I am doing here in the review of illuminating how gender and alcohol mix to make the modern alcoholic young woman. And the book doesn’t just detail the dramatics of her youthful drinking. She also goes into great detail about what it was like to stop. To find the empowerment of being completely in control again and not losing parts of herself and her life to blackouts. She talks about her sober life and how exciting it is, and she even talks about finding some spirituality. Most importantly to me, she discusses how women in western culture today are often told we are equal but are able to sense that things that are feminine are just not taken seriously. So they pursue the masculine to be taken more seriously and in some cases the masculine is simply not helpful. It is harmful. Sometimes, in cases like with binge drinking, it’s even more dangerous for women than for men. I believe the book offers some hope when Hepola talks about finding strength in her sober living and in her accomplishments at facing life as a single woman.
Those listening to the audiobook will be entranced by Hepola’s own voice telling the story. I couldn’t stop listening and listened every second I could. One of the more haunting moments of the audiobook is when toward the end Hepola introduces a tape recording she made as a teenager discussing a sexual encounter she had while drunk with a much older boy. Hearing the incredibly young voice of a woman already being drawn into the harmful world of addiction was heartbreaking to listen to and made me want to fix things, even though I wasn’t totally sure how.
This book left me realizing that the reality of women and alcohol has changed, and the cultural narrative needs to catch up with it. Women aren’t drinking in closets to dull their feminine mystique pain anymore. They’re drinking loud and proud because they want to be empowered and taken seriously and yes, even perceived of as cool. While we can talk about finding more positive ways of empowerment, I think it’s also important that we as a culture strive to stop putting innate positive value on the masculine and negative on the feminine. Things should be valued based on their impact on the world and not on the gender norm of who does it. And young women will stop feeling pressured to act like a man when men and women are equally valued. All of these things I am saying play into male drinking as well. If you think zero young men are binge drinking to be seen of as more of a man, you’re very wrong. We just see less of the immediate negative impact of male binge drinking because women black out so much more easily.
Hepola wrote a brave book that illuminates the issue of binge drinking among young women today. It’s both personal and with an eye to the culture as a whole, thinking beyond just the author herself. Readers will be haunted both by the voice of the young Sarah and by the thought of young women seeking to empower themselves actually making themselves more vulnerable. A key read for anyone who works with or cares about these younger generations of women.
5 out of 5 stars
Illness(es) featured: Addictive Disorders
Supernatural bounty hunter Zyan Star jets down to Rio right before Carnival to meet a potential new client. She’s taken by surprise when that new client just so happens to be Raoul Cabrera, the half demon half faery supernatural overlord of Brazil. He routinely rubs elbows with Lucifer, and Zyan isn’t too keen to work with him. She’s even less inclined to when she finds out he brought in a second bounty hunter, Donovan McGregor. But Raoul persuades her…by threatening her friends. So Zyan finds herself working with Donovan against a herd of Nightmares–horse spirits that torment people with visions of their worst fears before devouring their flesh.
This was one of my accepted indie ARCs for 2016 (see complete list here). I accepted it for the combination of Rio and evil horse spirits, and I started with reading it first because I was in the mood for some light-hearted urban fantasy. What I found was a novella that set up a world I was quite interested in but left me wanting more.
Zyan is mostly a typical urban fantasy heroine, but her two friends who came with her to Rio intrigued me. I got a Buffy and her friends vibe from the group, and I appreciated an urban fantasy heroine who’s comfortable relying on other people and being open about her friendships right from the get-go. The setting was bright, colorful, and well-described, and Rio isn’t something I’ve personally seen before in an urban fantasy. The Nightmares were everything the description promised to me and more. I found them both adorable and deliciously frightening. The plot twists in a way I wasn’t expecting and brings in a new character I was happy to see.
But this novella did leave me wanting more. It is a fine line between wanting more in a good way and being left with not enough to ever fully get into the story. This fell into the latter end of that. A novella doesn’t have room to set up a ton of backstory but the reader still needs to feel as if the smaller plot within the novella is fully told. While some of the scenes felt fully fleshed-out, others read more like initial outlines for a larger story. For about half of the novella, I felt the author needed to come back through and add some things in, in order for the reader to be able to get fully into the mini-episode of Zayn’s life being told. I also must admit that I wasn’t too keen on the vibe between Zayn and Donovan. I hesitate to call it a romance, as it reads more like a simple sexual attraction. It’s not that I’m against that in an urban fantasy, but it read as a bit forced and took away time in the short novel from the main plot I was more interested in.
Overall, readers looking for a short dip into an urban fantasy world or who just want to see the Nightmares in action will enjoy this read. Readers who are familiar with Zayn from other stories will probably enjoy it most of all, but it’s also a good way to get a taste of Zayn and see if you would like to read more. I know I would certainly like to read a full length book featuring Zayn and her friends.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
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