Full Pour Review: The Prettiest Star

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Fuck… I am at a loss for words with this one. The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read, and will read, this entire year. This story overflowed with so much raw emotion and is easily one of the most beautifully written and heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read in my life.

At the age of 18, Brian Jackson moves to New York City in search of acceptance and freedom. Just six years into his new life, AIDS has claimed the life of his boyfriend, several of his friends, and now his own future. Now only 24, alone, and desperate to get out of New York and away from the constant reminders of death, Brian decides to go back home and be with his family. At home, Brian’s family struggles to adapt to his return. Terrified by Brian’s disease and sexual identity, and desperate to keep these details secret from everyone in town, his family has no idea how to talk to him, support him or care for him. Seemingly, the only person happy to see him return home is his grandmother. The Prettiest Star is told in multiple POV’s: Brian’s mother Sharon; his younger sister, Jess, as she grapples with her brother’s mysterious return; and the video diaries that Brian records to document his final summer and the horrors that him and his friends have faced from AIDS.

This book had me hooked from the very beginning and gave me all 👏🏻 the 👏🏻 feels 👏🏻. I feel like I have so much to say, yet don’t really know where to start. Carter Sickels is a literary genius and does such an amazing job at developing the characters in this story. I was blown away by how deep and intense the anger, frustration and hurt that I felt towards Brian’s mother, father, sister and other townspeople was as a result of their actions throughout the story. And Brian’s character…. everything about him felt so authentic and real. Every ounce of me wished that I could somehow step in to the story and protect him. Throughout the entire book, I was so thankful that he had his grandmother and best friend Annie as loving allies.

The way that Carter Sickels describes the struggles and prejudice experienced by the LGBTQ+ community is so powerful, heartbreaking and mind blowing. My heart hurts so bad from reading what is only a small sliver of cruelty that members of this community have suffered, and continue to suffer from. When it comes to equality and justice, we still have so far to go…

The Prettiest Star is a MUST READ. This story is so important, and I want everyone to be able to experience what I felt while reading this. Thank you so much, Carter Sickels, for writing this incredible story. This one will stick with me for a very long time 💛


BEER RECOMMENDATION: The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels is best paired with Sour Me Three’s Company by DuClaw Brewing Company. This delicious and highly enjoyable fruited sour is brewed with pomegranate, passion fruit and plum in collaboration with Whitey’s Liquors, located in MD, as well as Britt and Cassie from @SlightlySour 🍻

Full Pour Review: Here For It

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Okay, this is officially the best memoir I’ve read so far this year 👏🏻 Within the first few pages, Here For It by R. Eric Thomas had me smiling and cracking up, and I continued to smile and laugh throughout the entire story. To be perfectly honest, I knew I was going to be hooked on this book by like page 3 of the prologue 😂

Here For It is a collection of essays where R. Eric Thomas examines his personal experiences on what it was like to be an “other,” his struggle with reconciling his sexual and religious identities, finding his way during and after college, poor dating decisions, accidentally getting famous on the internet (a few times!), and stumbling upon his career with Elle. R. Eric Thomas ultimately takes all of these lessons learned along the way and uses them to answer the questions we’re all trying to figure out ourselves: is the future worth it? Do things really get better? How do we power through when things only seem to be getting worse?

“You’re exactly who you need to be. Each of you. It may not feel like it; it may seem like it would be much easier being anyone else. You may look back at the person you were at one point and wish that you could instead be the person you are now at that far distant, unreachable point in the past. But you had to be who you were to get to who you are. Every page in the story is successive; they’re all numbered and bound like a book.”

R. Eric Thomas, referring to the various versions of oneself at different ages

You guys, I didn’t want this book to end. I honestly couldn’t get enough of R. Eric Thomas’s quirky and witty remarks, pop-culture references and beautiful candor. Please stop whatever you’re doing and buy this book- not just because of how joyful, entertaining and deeply moving it is (and because you will want him to be your new BFF), but because this book is exactly what 2020 needs and I promise that there is something within it that will surely resonate with everyone 💛


BEER RECOMMENDATION: Here For It by R. Eric Thomas is best paired with Guns ‘n’ Rosé by Oskar Blues Brewery. Guns ‘n’ Rosé is a fruit ale brewed with hibiscus and prickly pear, playing off of the dry, tart or fruity flavors and pinkish color of rosé wines 🍻

Full Pour Review: Beach Read

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Beach Read by Emily Henry was an adorable, witty and entertaining rom-com that truly is the perfect beach read. I was engrossed in the story from the very beginning and couldn’t put it down because I kept needing to know what was happening next.

Augustus Everett and January Andrews are both bestselling authors- Augustus in literary fiction and January in romance. Not only are these two complete opposites of one another in their writing styles and genres, but also in the way that they view the world. Augustus is more of a realist (sometimes pessimist) while January has always been an optimistic hopeless romantic. January and Augustus met in college and were not exactly friends (January even considers him her writing arch nemesis!). Needless to say, they have not seen or spoke to one another in years.

Due to some personal events happening in January’s life, she finds herself living in her deceased fathers beachfront house on Lake Michigan and it turns out that her next door neighbor is none other then Augustus Everett. For the next three months, the only thing that these two have in common is that they live on the same street, are broke and suffering from severe writers block.

One evening, Augustus and January decide to make a deal with one another as an attempt to get them out of their creative ruts- Augustus will attempt to write a feel-good love story while January attempts to write something serious and dark. Every week, January will take Augustus on field trips that are meant to inspire swoon-worthy meet cutes while Augustus takes January on interviews with people who’ve survived a backwoods death cult.

There’s no way that these two will both manage to write their next successful book without somehow falling in love, right? 😉🙄

I absolutely adored the relationship and witty banter between Augustus and January, as well as their character development throughout the story. Their stories were raw and real and their individual growth through out the story was admirable- I felt like I was navigating through their struggles alongside them. Their personalities were endearing and rich- Emily Henry truly did a fantastic job at planning out these characters.

Beach Read is a feel good, comical story about forgiveness, second chances, betrayal, failure, creative struggle and learning how to love again. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read with an exciting plot that will tug at your heart strings and a satisfying ending, this book is for you!


BEER RECOMMENDATION: Beach Read by Emily Henry is best paired with Apple by Bold Rock Cider. This crisp, sweet and refreshing cider is highly enjoyable and perfect for the beach 🍻

Full Pour Review: Big Summer

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

“Big Summer” by Jennifer Weiner was an entertaining story about female friendships, frenemies, self love, family, resilience and life as an Instagram influencer. I went into this book blind and was happy that I did, as there was a pleasantly surprising whodunnit twist to the story that I wasn’t expecting!

Six years after the devastating fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is totally shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks right back into her life with a huge favor to ask. Daphne and Drue haven’t spoken a single word to each other in six years, so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the most anticipated wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless and weary of Drue’s intentions.

While Drue was always the one with the seemingly perfect life, she has never been able to maintain healthy friendships. As a result of the fight from six years ago, Daphne’s built a life that she loves and is no longer the same self-effacing sidekick that she was in high school. She has a wonderful friendship with her childhood friend and roommate Darshi, and a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Daphne knows that allowing Drue back into her life is risky, but it includes an irresistible opportunity to spend a weekend at a waterfront Cape Cod mansion- a chance to meet some cute single guys and the perfect Instagram-worthy setting to photograph the new line of clothing she was recently contracted to be the face of.

I enjoyed the character development of Daphne Berg throughout the story and found her to be very strong, relatable and real. We’ve all experienced issues with self-love, body image, sticking up for ourselves, and frenemies, and I loved how gracefully Daphne handled these issues through out the story. Drue Cavanaugh’s character gave off all of the Regina George and Mean Girls vibes, which I both enjoyed and hated. I adored Darshi’s character and felt that she was such a great loyal, loving friend to Daphne- always honest and telling her like it is, but giving her the space to figure things out for herself and providing a non-judgmental, safe space when she needs it most.

One minor aspect of the book that I didn’t completely understand is why the very beginning of the book started off from the perspective of a character who only reappears for a short period of time later in the story. While the story is primarily told by the perspective of Daphne, the initial character perspective at the beginning of the book almost feels out of place and a little unnecessary. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this as well if you’ve read the book.

A lot of reviews I’ve seen say that this book feels like there are almost two stories in one- the first part of the book feels like a women’s fiction read, while the second half feels like a thriller. I absolutely agree with these thoughts and I think that surprise shift in the story made it that much more enjoyable.

Overall, I thought this was a really enjoyable story. Big Summer is the first book I’ve read by by Jennifer Weiner and I feel like I’ve been missing out. This book was a great first read by this author and I look forward to exploring more of her books!


Beer Recommendation: Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner is best paired with Salted Rim by 1623 Brewing Co. This delicious, balanced sour gose gives all of the margarita vibes with notes of lime, salt, and a slight agave after taste 🍻

Full Pour Review: After I Do

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

I have heard so many amazing things about Taylor Jenkins Reid and her books and was absolutely thrilled to finally read my first book by her recently, After I Do. OMG you guys- I absolutely see what the hype was all about! This book was amazing and everything that I hoped it to be, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up several times while reading this.

After I Do is an incredibly sweet, modern love story about the marriage between Lauren and Ryan Cooper who met in college at 19 years old, fell in love, and got married. After 11 years together, they begin to fight a lot and forget the reasons why they fell in love with one another and how to make one another happy. When their marriage reaches its breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan to take a year long break from one another in effort to find a way to fall in love again. During this time, they are not allowed to contact one another and will be dating other people. Over the course of a year, Lauren goes through a beautiful journey of self-discovery and begins to change her ideas on what love and marriage are and what she truly values both in life and in a relationship.

I absolutely adored this beautiful story and fell in love with all of the characters in this book. Lauren and Ryan were incredibly relatable and I loved being able to watch them grow throughout the book. Their relationship struggles are something that most of us have experienced at one point or another and it felt like a beautiful reminder about how fragile, wonderful, and complicated love can be. I felt so immersed in their story and relished in all of the emotions I was able to feel while navigating their journey. All of the supporting characters in this story were amazing as well and I loved the various little storylines with each of them.

This story is about what happens when the romance and love fades in a relationship and how to stay in love. It’s about the importance of never giving up and not being afraid to ask for what you want and need in a relationship. It’s a reminder that everyones opinion on love and marriage drastically varies and that there is no definitive one-size-fits-all meaning or guide to follow. If you are looking for a feel good modern love story that will not only be difficult to put down, but teach you some wonderful reminders and insights about love, family and relationships, I highly recommend reading this book!


BEER PAIRING: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid is best paired with No Way Frose by Prairie Artisan Ales. This enjoyable, lightly tart sour ale is brewed with juniper, lime zest, pineapple purée and strawberries, reminiscent of the traditional Frose drink 🍻

Full Pour Review: Conjure Women

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

Conjure Women was my first buddy read with my amazing bookish girl gang on Bookstagram and I’m so glad that we selected this as our first book because there was a lot to digest and discuss afterwards, hence the reason I delayed writing this review as long as I did.

Conjure Women is set in the South and spans over the course of multiple generations before and after the Civil War. Moving back and forth in time among the characters, this story focuses on three women- a healing woman named May Belle, her daughter Rue, and their master’s daughter, Varina. The secrets and deep-rooted bonds that these three women share come to a head when the Civil War begins and upon the birth of a child that is believed to be cursed. The birth of this child, Bean, brings forth a lot of fear and superstition among the townspeople that they worry will threaten their newfound freedom.

I’m gonna be totally honest with you guys. I really wanted to love this book but I struggled with it and it just didn’t do much for me. I don’t know if it’s because it was hard to focus due to everything going on right now, or if it was the writing style and story plot itself that just didn’t pique my interest like I expected it to, or if it just simply is not the book for me. I found myself re-reading a lot of parts and felt like the plot fell flat, struggling to identify where the story was going and was left with a lot of questions at the end. The first 150 pages were hard to get through and while things slowly started to pick up a little after that, I felt like a lot of the surprise twists were randomly snuck into the story and not as strong as they could’ve been due to how slow the story was and not being totally sure what was happening and why. It’s very possible that because I was struggling to focus, I could have missed out on some key pieces of information that would have helped me better understand some things.

I think that it’s worth revisiting when things are back to normal to see if I feel any different. I absolutely can’t give it anything less than a rating of 3.5 because the story overall was very rich and beautifully written with complex characters. It is very clear how much research and passion went into writing this story. Please don’t let my opinion discourage you from reading this book because there are so many glowing reviews and there is so much potential with this story. If you’ve already read this book, I would love to know your thoughts on it and continue to discuss it!


BEER PAIRING: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is best paired with Bamburana by Oskar Blues Brewery and Cigar City Brewing. This boozy beer is an imperial stout double barrel-aged in whiskey and brandy barrels with amburana wood spirals, dates and figs. The wood produces a warm, gingerbread spice flavor as well as hints of vanilla 🍻

Full Pour Review: Godshot

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker was truly a remarkable read that took me on a roller coaster ride of so many different thoughts and emotions. This unnerving debut novel paints a tragic, yet gripping picture of girlhood, mother loss, cults, religious extremities, resilience, trauma, sexual violence, desperation, belonging, alcoholism, and much more, leaving the reader with so much to chew on.

Godshot is based in the drought-stricken town of Peaches, California, where its citizens have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance and assurance that their raisin farms will return to the agricultural paradise that they used to be. According to Vern, the answers to their prayers lie within the special, secret assignments that are carried out by a select chosen few. Lacey May has seen Pastor Vern bring rain to the town before, so she has no reason not to trust his intentions this time around. That is, until her entire world is quickly turned upside down. At fourteen years old, Lacey May is so excited to finally get her first period, indicating that she is now ready for her special assignment. Shortly after, her mother is banished from the church for her sins and abandons Lacey May by running off with a man she hardly knows. Now under the guardianship of her grandmother, Lacey May begins to piece together the horrifying details of Pastor Vern’s plan and decides to go search for her mom and bring her home with the help of a woman who may know her whereabouts.

“I imagined her floating above our beloved town of Peaches, dropping God glitter over us like an angel, summoning the rain to cure our droughted fields. I imagined all these things with a burn of jealousy, for I had not received my woman’s blessing yet, the rush of blood between my legs that would signify me as useful. I’d just turned fourteen but was still a board-chested child in the eyes of God and Pastor Vern, and so I prayed day and night for the blood to come to me in a river, to flood the bed I shared with my mother. Then I would be ready. I could have an assignment too.”

Lacey May, Godshot

Godshot is full of many larger-than-life characters that you’ll either love or hate for all the right reasons. Lacey May is incredibly strong, brave, heroic, loyal, forgiving, naive and good hearted. I loved being able to watch how much her character grew up over the course of the story and was amazed at how forgiving and loving she remained despite everything she went through with her mom, Vern, Lyle and Cherry. Lacey May’s mom is a very complex character who suffers from alcoholism and incredibly low self esteem, continuously dating terrible men that verbally and physically abuse her and her daughter. This abusive cycle eventually leads Lacey May’s mom to be banished from Vern’s church, abandoning her daughter in the process. The majority of the book is centered around Lacey May trying to find her mom and bring her “home”, and the aching loss that she feels as she slowly comes to terms that her mom may never be a part of her life again. One of my favorite characters in the book was Daisy, a single mother to Florin who ran a small business as a phone sex operator. She became an amazing mother-figure to Lacey May, taking her under her wing and giving her the type of love, protection and guidance that she had so desperately craved to receive from her own mother.

Bieker’s storytelling is impeccable, fully immersing the reader inside Lacey May’s world and providing a glimpse into a seemingly dystopian society that reminded me a lot of Gilead and The Handmaid’s Tale. I personally have a lot of mixed feelings about religion and tend to feel uncomfortable by the subject matter, so while this book was difficult at times for me to read, I loved Bieker’s ability to take such a jarring subject matter and make it comical, frustrating, heart wrenching and even exciting.

“Vern breezed to the front, an impatient energy about him. He wrung his hands and kept glancing toward the main door. “Girls! Your stomachs are growing and growing! Praise be to the one who created us. In your wombs are church babies, of course. Future leaders of our army. Miracles in human form, the greatest offering we can turn over to God. Only then he will bless us with…” “Rain,” we all said together.”

Godshot

There is SO much that can be discussed about this book, which honestly made this a challenging review for me to write because I absolutely don’t want to give too much away. Overall, this book was beautifully written with many great messages to take away from it. If you are a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, I would be willing to bet that you will love this book too.

BEER RECOMMENDATION: Godshot is best paired with Even More Jesus by Evil Twin Brewing and Two Roads Brewing Company. Even More Jesus is an imperial stout, clocking in at 12% ABV. This sweet, thick and boozy fudge-like stout is pitch black in color with a mocha brown head and boasts with notes of chocolate, coffee, dark fruits and burnt brown sugar 🍻

Full Pour Review: Such a Fun Age

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Such a Fun Age was an impressive, quick read that all at once was entertaining, enlightening and a little uncomfortable at times. From the very beginning, I was completely engrossed in the story and finished the book in two days.

In this book, Kiley Reid provides timely insights on several important topics such as race, privilege, social biases, power struggles and boundaries in a comical way through the complicated relationships between characters Emira Tucker, Alix Chamberlain and Kelly Copeland.

Alix Chamberlain is a young blogger who hires 25 year old Emira Tucker to babysit her 2 year old child, Briar. One late evening while Emira is out celebrating a friends birthday, Alix calls her in an emergency, hoping that Emira could help them by entertaining Briar away from home while Alix and her husband Peter addressed the situation. While walking around a local grocery store with Briar, another customer became concerned that a young black girl was out so late with a white toddler and reported her to the grocery store security guard. In front of a small gathering of customers and while being filmed by one of the them, Emira is verbally harassed by this security guard and customer; completely mortified to be accused of kidnapping Briar. Alix is shocked that this incident occurred in her neighborhood store and with the best of intentions, goes out of her way to help make things right for Emira.

At this moment in her life, Emira has no idea what she wants to do when she grows up; concerned that she has not discovered her talents or passions as easily as the rest of her family, and growing increasingly concerned that she will be kicked off of her parents health insurance plan prior to finding a full time job with benefits. While Emira absolutely adores Briar and being her babysitter, she is not the biggest fan of Alix and is wary of her sudden deeper interest and desire to help her.

Kiley Reid’s storytelling ability is incredible and it’s hard to believe that this is her debut novel. While the personalities and lives of Alix and Emira were vastly different, I found them very relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed how entertaining and thought provoking this story was, leaving the reader with so much to reflect on long after they have finished the book. If you’re looking for a fun, dramatic, contemporary fiction story that you can easily power through, I highly recommend checking out “Such a Fun Age.”

Beer Recommendation:

Such a Fun Age is best paired with NOBO by Monument City Brewing Company. NOBO is a delicious New England style IPA that was double dry hopped with Citra and El Dorado hops. This juicy, citrusy beer starts with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel and finishes mildly bitter 🍻