January 22, 2014

Mini-Reviews: A Quintet of Shebooks

Shebooks first came to my attention when Beth Kephart posted about them.  Bite-sized books for busy women?  That's right up my alley right now.  And Beth's excerpts of Zoe Rosenfeld's "Owl in Darkness" certainly whetted my appetite.  All five of these titles are available now from Shebooks.  In addition to the story, each book includes questions at the end to help think about the reading.

Owl in Darkness "Owl in Darkness" by Zoe Rosenfeld
Review copy

"Owl in Darkness" is the story of a writer staying at a manor for six weeks (a special writer's residency), but who hasn't written a word since she's arrived.  Instead, she's preoccupied with the people and things around her.  Cups left by the nightwatchmen, noises in the wood . . . it's all rendered in beautiful, descriptive prose.

And though the tale of writer's block is familiar, Bert's struggles are eventually her own, as are her epiphanies.  The atmosphere throughout is wonderful, making the little things loom as large for the reader as Bert.  It's very easy to get caught up in the point of view.  (For all my YA readers out there, I recommend this one for fans of Maggie Stiefvater.)

Stolen Moments "Stolen Moments" by Suzanne Antonette Paola
Review copy

I come to "Stolen Moments" next, because it is similar in many ways to "Owl in Darkness."  There's quite a bit of internal narration with a focus on slightly off relationships, but I did not like it near as much.  It kept striking me as the worst sort of navel gazing, although I did rather like the middle section ("Shoes").

And, well, it struck me as an ah-ha! moment when the back revealed that these three stories are part of a larger work to be published later.  That's why they didn't quite work, didn't fully connect, never truly went anywhere.  It's just a glorified excerpt!  There are some good moments in "Stolen Moments," but I found it rather dull overall.  (It doesn't help that the three narrators, from three different walks of life, sound basically the same.)

Mating Calls "Mating Calls: The Problem with Lexie and No. 7" by Jessica Anya Blau
Review copy

This is the final fiction Shebook I read and the only one by an author I was familiar with.  Jessica Anya Blau's two short stories aren't related, except by some uniting themes.  "The Problem with Lexie" is the tale of a school counselor making some very bad decisions regarding pills and her love life and "No. 7" is about (Alex)Zandra spotting a former lover by chance in a Ross Dress for Less.

I liked both narrators, although Alexandra has the advantage of being removed from her terrible relationship decision.   I enjoyed Lexie's narration even at her worst behavior, however.  I enjoyed how fun both of Blau's stories were, even when they dealt with unpleasant things.

His Eye Is on the Sparrow "His Eye Is on the Sparrow: An Engagement in Black and White" by Ann Pearlman
Review copy

Ann Pearlman's memoir goes back to 1962 when she (a Jewish woman) was engaged to Ty (a black man).  It tells of them meeting each others' families, with episodes both funny and harrowing.  The way she writes about emotions is incredibly vivid, from love to humiliation.  It certainly convinced me that I want to read INFIDELITY, her Pulitzer-prize winning memoir about their marriage.

I particularly love the descriptions of food in "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."  Who doesn't associate food with community, hospitality, history?  It comes through so deliciously here, even when the food is divisive.  I'm not a big memoir fan, but this is simply a fascinating story.

Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide "The Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide to Lady Problems" by Faith Adiele
Review copy

"The Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide to Lady Problems" discusses a serious lady problem: fibroids.  Faith Adiele had four painful ones and lots of conflicting advice about what to do about them - from her different cultures, different doctors - and much of it was fairly judgmental.

The medical system in America is highly flawed, and the treatment people get varies wildly depending on how you're perceived by your medical provider.  Honestly, the Nigerian, Nordic, and American ways all fail her differently - and all see Adiele as failing in different ways. Adiele's memoir is funny, painful, and quite insightful.    (And it certainly made me think about my mother's stories about her fibroids.)

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