Eleven Percent Not an Expert
Is it a Blog? Or is it a Newsletter?
Welcome to … whatever this is, blog, newsletter, space for rants, reviews and reflection.
Who cares? It’s gonna be fun!
I’m Liz. A.k.a. Elizabeth. A.k.a. ET Crowe
I’ve tried a lot of things in my life, found a few a like, a few I’m good at, and came within a hairsbreadth of being an expert at many.
This cool new toy we’re playing with, this substack of blog posts, this little corner of ego, gives me a chance to get back to basics on some things that I’ve been doing for a while.
There will be three (count ‘em 3) reviews per episode, or issue
Reviewing and ranting about the world of booze
Includes but is never limited to:
wine and related snobbishness
Chatting about my favorite sports teams which are in order of importance to me:
Louisville Cardinals (YES it is a flipping MESS over there rn, we shall discuss)
Detroit Lions (are you getting a theme yet?)
Baltimore Ravens or Whatever Team Lamar Jackson Plays For
Women’s soccer in general
Others as they become relevant
Oversharing about my own journey as an author, mom of three grown humans, animal advocate, former brewery founder and owner, and how that experience gave me a lot, and took my soul for a lot of years, as well as reflections upon the 7 years I spent hauling my small human offspring around three different countries, trailing my automotive executive spouse.
Let’s jump in shall we? I am way backed up on book reviews and so this first edition will be All About What I Read In January. Please note that I review for Netgalley and am trying to get on with Edelweiss. I also have been known to spend an hour or five at my new local bookstore, M. Judson Booksellers in Greenville and spend several dollars on books that just appeal to me there.
LUSTER by Raven Leilani
If I were to sum up my thoughts on this book in a word, that word would be:
How an author turned modern day stream-of-consciousness about being Black, homeless, addicted to sex, broke, unemployed, and orphaned into the Novel of the Year is a lesson in creating a story arc. At one end of the arc, Edie's life is a total sh*t show. And she doesn't seem like the type to learn her lesson about Bad Choices in Men. She's literally fighting the rodents off her food when she loses her job because of the above-mentioned bad choice, thanks to a healthy dollop of Extreme Misogyny. I mean, dudes screw their way through the office all the time, even the married ones without getting canned.
The extreme cringy-ness of her life is what makes this book so compelling. With every chapter her arc reaches a peak, and then slides down the other side while Edie learns more lessons about herself and her actual awesomeness. She IS an artist. She IS good with kids. She DOES know how to learn lessons about making bad choices with men. And she CAN find a job that will allow her to live on her own again. She IS ALLOWED to have a healthy libido and seek physical pleasure while not being defined by the way she goes about it.
By the end of the book, while her situation has not been 100% resolved, it's definitely headed in that direction, thanks to friendships with, and the support of women.
This author brandishes words like a machete, chopping her way into your mind and heart even as she soothes your worry about Edie with humor in between the cuts. Edie is the most perfect example of How Not To Live in Your Twenties In a Big City, while at the same time she's also a PhD thesis in resolve, strength, and courage.
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten
Lots has already been said about this book that I could repeat. Historical fiction is a tough sell sometimes, but I believe that Ellen Alpsten has turned the story of the first Catherine of Russia into some thing that is both entertaining and enlightening. It helps that her subject matter is so fascinating, and that the Russian courts were both over the top decadent and pious and intriguing in ways that put the English Tudors (my other favorite historical era) to shame.
I am trying to do a couple of things with regard to my knowledge of Russia. One is to channel my slight obsession with the silly but amazing Hulu series about the second Catherine to learn more about Russia's history. The other is to try and link its history to its present. I'm attempting to get a better sense of the people and the way they were ruled for so long to understand more about it in the present day. The insights that the young Marta gives about the world as she knows it as she progresses from poor village girl to the most powerful woman in the empire, says more about her resourcefulness and the way women were/are dismissed as throw-aways only to find them in control in ways that don't always have to involve mass destruction and death than anything. But I'm eager to read more about What Happens After this to continue my journey of Russian history/present discovery.
I'll admit, I enjoyed this book so much I read it and listened to it on audible and I can say that the narrator is spot on, nailing the names that are a mouthful and a half at times, as well as making Marta's/Catherine's story even more compelling.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forget by Mikki Kendall
It's not easy to read this book. Especially when you honestly believe you have done the work.
The work that you could manage to do, given your limitations. You know, life keeps you busy. Gotta raise the kids, sell the houses, open the new businesses, write the books, walk the dogs, make the dinners, throw the parties, drive to the soccer practices, go to the college graduations, busy busy busy!
And then you pick up a book like this, realizing what you're getting yourself into (I mean, you read the Washington Post reviews. You MARCHED in 2020.) And then you realize that the work you've done isn't enough.
The stages of acceptance for me--a cis, white, female of a certain age, living in a house with a lot of granite and quartz countertops and a dog I pay to take to DAYCARE--were rough. I got mad, defensive, protective of my beliefs and actions (such as they were--I mean, come ON I donate to NPR) I wanted to call this author up and tell her that I did what I could. I raised a new generation who go even further than I do with their ally-ship. Isn't that enough?
This book is best treated like a textbook. Best read a bit at a time so as to properly absorb its meaning and intent. Best read more than once.
For me, it was this quote because I relate best as a mom.
“If your child is killed by police, if the water in your community is poisoned, if a mockery is made of your grief, how do you feel? Do you want to be calm and quiet? Do you want to forgive in order to make everyone else comfortable? Or do you want to scream, to yell, to demand justice for the wrongs done? Anger gets the petitions out, it motivates marches, it gets people to the ballot. Anger is sometimes the only fuel left at the end of a long, horrible day, week, month, or generation.”
Every time a Black person is killed without reason other than Being Black, I feel for the parents. For me, Breonna Taylor was the last straw. For me, it's still not easy to find real ways to ally, to fight, to dig in, to do the work still needed in order to make "feminism" about all who call themselves women. My goal now, a year after my first read of this book, now that I've gathered myself enough to write this review, is to find one way every single damn day to put the voices of those who are not heard, first. To bring them forward in any way that I can. To amplify, embrace, and lift those voices a little bit higher.
It's a start. But it's definitely not the end of the work I must--that I want to-- do.
(and 1 more ‘cause I love ya)
City on Fire by Don (He is My Girl Scout Cookie Author) Winslow
Ok so I have to preface this with the caveat that Don Winslow books are like Girl Scout cookies to me as a reader. I have been known to plow through them (often times while mindlessly eating an entire sleeve or two of trefoils because those are The Best Ones) in single (long) sittings, or pulling up one I've listened to before in my audio book library because the way Mr. Winslow structures his stories is both impressive and addictive.
City on Fire gives us the first in what I hope will be another juicy storytelling arc similar to his Cartel trilogy (although, in all honesty, my favorite book of his is California Fire and Life). It's framed early on as a Homeric epic, complete with stolen wives, pissed off kings, and revenge seeking soldiers, not to mention an Achilles character who may, or may not be who you think he is. Winslow pulls you directly into the mix of yet another "secret society" (like a drug cartel, or a Big City Police Departments) in a way that feels real, and really stressful, but in an entirely entertaining way.
The beauty of this book (again, like his others) is that while you know you're reading a solid Irish/Italian mafia war novel set in (of all places) Provincetown, Rhode Island (who knew?), you get fully fleshed out characters at every level of the plot, as well as the sort of incredible world-building that make Winslow's books so compelling and unputdownable.
Thanks to Don Winslow and his publicist/publisher for a review copy of this book.
PLUS…2 from Netgalley that won’t release for a few months…
P.S. I Hate You by Sophie Ranald
*releasing March 3, 2022
I was intrigued by the concept of this book. A romance that was more or less told in reverse about a couple who'd been together since their high school years (or rather, since this is in England, since secondary school) and who now found themselves at a bit of an impasse, emotionally speaking.
Abbie and Matt are the perfect couple, at least from the outside. All their friends, singles or couples, think so. Abbie knows this. Her friends tell her as much. So when she realizes one morning that if she has to put the teaspoon her husband left out on the counter yet again int into the dishwasher herself, she is going to scream, or poke his eye out with it, she knows something has to change. With her friends' advice, she sets off trying to relive their significant moments--first date, special vacation, fancy drinks night out at the Ritz. But until she and Matt are honest about the one thing that she believes is holding them back, nothing works.
The structure of the novel is intriguing. It's a back and forth between present day (which works in the fact of the pandemic in ways that are spot-on without ever once mentioning the actual pandemic) and the past, telling Matt and Abbie's story from the end, as well as from the beginning. There are several fun side characters (I, for one, want Marc and Bastian's story) and the bits where Abbie attempts to be creative about her marketing firm's new sex toy client while struggling to reestablish the lust in her own marriage are great.
My favorite things about P.S. I Hate You: the British humor and slang. There is a lot of it. I caught 99% of the references. but I credit my two and a half years living in England for that.
The main thing I enjoyed was the lack of sappy or obvious resolution. It would have been easy to have Abbie get all dolled up in the sexy lingerie from the sample box she gets and resolve all their problems with One Special Night. But the realism of her attempts, Matt's honesty about them, and the way they finally do figure themselves out made this a wholly satisfying read.
The only thing I found jarring in any way were a few minor plot holes but they in no way affected my enjoyment of this well told, honest romance novel about a marriage at a crossroads.
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach
*releasing May 17, 2022
This is the sort of book that grabs you by the short emotional hairs and holds on tight for the duration of the narrative. The fact that it is told in a sort of mirror reflection second person point of view makes the book that much more compelling and palpable.
Sally Holt tells the story in first person, but writing it as a sort of report to Kathy, her older sister who dies in a tragic car accident while still in high school. The fact of Kathy's sudden death (which occurs in the first 1/4 of the plot) and what it does to Sally, her parents, and Billy Barnes, the boy who adored Kathy but who had the bad luck to be driving the car that day, forms the backbone of an amazing story of personal growth from terrible, inexplicable tragedy.
By continuing to refer to her dead sister as "you" throughout the book, Sally tells us the unvarnished truth of how different people process grief and about how she and her parents deal with (or not, as the case may be) her (Kathy's) horrible death. She reports in on Billy, who heads into a self destructive spiral, which she knows at first because she and Billy strike up a late night into the early morning hours sort of phone therapy. Sally herself is a mess in a lot of ways but manages to eke out a semi-normal high school life in a small town where she has to drive by the site of the car crash every single day. Her bond with Billy grows but then disperses once she realizes that she can shake off some of her grief by simply leaving town to go to college, then spending a summer abroad, then moving to New York City where she meets and gets engaged to a perfectly nice man, a failed musician, now a lawyer, from Canada.
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance is grindingly real, the grief of Kathy's family and boyfriend raw and throat scraping. But it's a testament to the author that for most of its sometimes hard-to-read passages, it is pure poetry.
So yay, there you go! Go forth and READ. But be sure to subscribe and watch your inbox for the February Guide to Proper Drinking, according to yours truly (and I am ALMOST an expert!)