Tuesday Reviews-Day: Hard to Die by Andra Watkins

Tuesday Revews-Day

Please note: this post contains affiliate links. I was also provided a review copy of today’s book.

For someone who was abysmal at history in school, I certainly do like a good history-based story. From the Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George to the Kent Family series by John Jakes, I lap up varying degrees of historical fiction much more readily than I did my AP History book in high school. In fact, had something like Hamilton existed back then, I don’t think I would have needed as many all-nighters as that class required of me.

Being a Hamilton fan, when I was approached with a review copy of Hard to Die, a novel by Andra Watkins based on Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr who went missing at sea, I was definitely curious enough to accept. I knew the book had elements of speculative fiction and a touch of the supernatural, but I was still expecting a bit more post-Revolutionary War and not being plopped down in Cold War-era America.

That disconcertion aside, I stuck with the story which follows Theo as she travels through a purgatory-like existence in Nowhere owing to her untimely death and unresolved life. She has just so many chances to complete a mission (to aid someone at a crossroads in their life) and move onto whatever waits beyond Nowhere. She’s not a ghost, though, she’s flesh and blood, and the dangers faced are real. She can die (again) in the course of her mission and have to start all over. I thought it was a rather clever blending of purgatory, limbo, and reincarnation in a way I hadn’t read before.

While we get glimpses of her actual history–tidbits of Burr’s other exploits, her son’s death, etc.–most of the time is spent in 1950, at West Point, with a Cadet and former spy, Richard, that is the object of Theo’s Nowhere mission. While entertaining enough and it opens some doors onto intriguing avenues of self-study (the previous volume in this series focuses on Merriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, which is a whole ‘nother story and then some), this might almost be better suited for WWII fans than Hamilton fans.

Still, if you know someone who’s into both, it might be a nice gift when combined with a few other choice items. If I were to put this together as a bundled gift, I’d slip in a copy of Hamilton: the Revolution, the Original Broadway Recording (just because we’re fans doesn’t mean we’ve purchased the album yet–I listen to it via Prime Music, for instance), and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography that started it all.

Pick Your Poison: Edible Cocktails vs the New Old Bar


To say that I love books is an understatement: in our current home what was meant as the dining room serves as our “Library” and doesn’t even come close to holding our combined collections. And my cookbook bookcase is full to overflowing.

And, yet, I’ll seldom pass up the chance to meet a new book (though more and more and showing up on my Kindle, these days).

But, just like people, not every book was meant for every person. Today I’ve got two books that I wanted to love, but only found that bosom companion in one.


First up, Edible Cocktails: From Garden to Glass – Seasonal Cocktails with a Fresh Twist by Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse.

With a name like Edible Cocktails, at first I expected something that took the flavor profiles of cocktails and put them into foods as opposed to beverages. The subtitle turned me around and then had me thinking that the cocktails would be arranged by season, to take advantage of fresh fruits, herbs and juices in-season.

It didn’t really do either per se.

What it did was spend the first third of the book touching on everything from types of spirits to gardening to composting. Yeah, I don’t want composting anywhere near my cocktails; thanks but no thanks. And it did all of this while coming off a bit pretentious. I kept thinking it was the Portland or Austin of cocktail books. Not a bad thing if that’s what you’re looking for, but not necessarily my cup of tea.

The true thrust of this book leans towards the syrups, jams, purees, and infusions that pepper the book and are then used in the cocktails that make up the other half of the book’s recipes. Even though I have a confirmed black thumb and have no interest in gardening whatsoever, I do appreciate the inventive flavor combinations her recipes suggest.

Another niggling detail was that each of the purees, etc. require refrigeration and last only a week. And that’s after you’ve gone to the trouble of making and seeing how much you have because the recipes are sorely lacking in any sort of yield information (okay for cocktails, they usually make 1, but not for other items). I also didn’t really appreciate the brand-name-dropping that went on throughout the book. Things like that stick in my craw, but others may not care about them so much.

The photos in the book are breathtaking, though–this could have been nothing but the photos in a hardback coffee table-sized edition and I would have loved it as is. No recipes required. And I would love to have their assortment of barware.

Best bet is to gift this book to a friend who does garden, drools over the Anthropology catalog, and shops thrift stores for vintage finds.

(And just a note to say that while I may not have thoroughly enjoyed Edible Cocktails, Bovis is a partner in the O.M. line of organic cocktail mixers which I adore.)


By contrast I truly adored The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks from The Hearty Boys. This fun, fast-reading book by Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith (whom you may know if you are a fan of the Next Food Network Star) was an absolute pleasure to read. There’s a healthy smattering of cocktail photos as well as many photos of cocktail ephemera and neon signs. It’s just plain fun.

In addition to quite a long list of cocktails (listed alphabetically on their own, but organized by base spirit in the index), along with tips or anecdotes on many, there’s the promised chapter on snacks that really makes you want to get into the kitchen. Fried, pickled, or baked and, yes, salty, these nibbles are intended to whet the appetite of a bar patron or your guest for some liquid refreshment. The Cheesy Monkey Bread in particular caught my eye.

The New Old Bar rounds out its offerings with a chapter on toasts. While its true you can drink any time, having a reason–be it loves lost or gained, life’s milestones, or holidays–makes the libations even more meaningful with a few choice words said over them.

A bon vivant of the first order would love this book, as would any burgeoning cocktail enthusiast interested in the classics as well as some more modern drinks.


I was provided copies of each book for purpose of review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own. Have a cocktail book coming out that your brave enough to let me see? Email sipsandshots@gmail.com for my mailing information.