Tag Archives: NetGalley

Shebooks, and a Review of Mating Calls, by Jessica Anya Blau

My Kindle is the old-fashioned kind. It’s the version with the keyboard, the one that doesn’t do much more than its original purpose of being an e-reader.

After a bit of flirtation with the idea of divorcing my device for a Kindle Fire, I’m content with it because it meets my needs – which is for me to have something available to read whenever the opportunity strikes.

But here’s the thing. As a reader, I often find myself with pockets of time when I don’t feel like starting a novel or continuing with one. I’m talking about during my lunch hour, or the 45 minutes before falling asleep, or waiting for a child at an appointment or … whatever. You want something short and quick, yet you want to feel your time wasn’t wasted on fluff.

At least I do.

That’s where Shebooks come in. According to their website, “Shebooks is the new e-book publisher of great short stories by women, for women. We publish short memoirs, fiction, essays, and long-form journalism by some of the best writers in the United States and beyond, both well-known and yet to be discovered. Each Shebook is between the length of a magazine article and a book—long enough to immerse yourself for a plane ride, or a good read before bed.”

I love this concept, and I think that this will resonate with a lot of busy women. It’s exactly what I had in mind when I published my short-short story, “Extractions” on Amazon. I wanted to write something that could be read quickly, while waiting for the dentist or therapist, in the pick up line at school, etc. (And because, well, sometimes I like to bury myself in a book and not talk to anyone in such situations, you know?) 

Several titles are available now each for $2.99, and plans are in the works to launch a subscription service this spring. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.

My first Shebooks download (actually courtesy of NetGalley) was the very fun and highly entertaining Mating Calls by Jessica Anya Blau, author of The Wonder Bread Summer, Drinking Closer to Home, and The Summer of Naked Swim Parties. I had heard of Ms. Blau previously, but hadn’t read her work. 

Mating Calls

Mating Calls consists of two short stories, “The Problem with Lexie” and “No. Seven,” both of which I really liked and read while waiting for my daughter at gymnastics practice last Monday. (See what I did there?) In “The Problem with Lexie,” this chick – that would be Lexie – is a high school guidance counselor having an affair with the father of one of her students. Her life is a bit out of control, to say the least. She’s one hell of a hot mess, sinking into a Klonopin and alcohol-induced spiral. 

The thing is, we all know that person like Lexie – or were on the cusp of being her at one time – which makes “The Problem with Lexie” so relatable.

Flashbacks to high school resurface in the second story, “No. Seven,” when now-grown up Zandra runs into someone she once knew intimately. The reasons why are excruciatingly sad, but how she eventually handles the situation is brilliant.  Still, our grown-up hearts break for what teenage Zandra doesn’t know and give a standing ovation for what grown-up Zandra does. We remember our own teasing and our own mortifying moments of wannabe acceptance and struggles of insecurity, and we have our own kick-ass moments, if only in our mind.

These were escapism stories, fiction that took my mind off of the worries of the day and week. Jessica Anya Blau’s writing was-whip-smart-fast and kept me grinning to myself, living vicariously through Lexie in particular while the other moms at gymnastics practice chased around after toddlers and sippy cups. (I don’t miss those days.)

All this for $2.99.

As I said, I’m excited about this idea and to see where this goes. I have a few other Shebooks on my Kindle and am looking forward to several others that are expected shortly. To learn more, visit Shebooks.net.

Aside from receiving a free download of an e-book from NetGalley, I was not compensated for this post. I’m just a happy supporter. 



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Book Review: Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, by Barbara Garson

Down the Up Escalator Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, by Barbara Garson 
276 pages

“If you’re not a worker, not a consumer, and you don’t earn significant income from investments, then you don’t have much of a place in capitalist society. In the course of this recession millions more of us have slipped into that no place. Most of us will still manage to eat and keep our televisions connected. But it can’t be pleasant to live in a country whose elite have no regular use for us.” (pg. 269)

This quote, coming at the end of Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, captures the feeling of this book pretty well. And we’ll come back to this in a bit.  In the meantime though, misery loves company, right? That must have been what I think I was thinking when I requested (and received) an advance readers copy of Down the Up Escalator from NetGalley.

(A disclaimer: this review is based on the audiobook narrated by Jeanine Klein as well as the print version from my library, which all the quotes are taken from.)

I’d imagine that the target reader for Down the Up Escalator is someone like me. Someone who has truly, honest-to-God been irreversibly financially impacted by the economy on each one of the three levels that Barbara Garson highlights in Down the Up Escalator – the housing/mortgage crisis (check), long term unemployment (check) and depletion of personal savings (annnnd, check!).

The personal stories of my peers are, indeed, at the heart of this book. As they should be. Those who Ms. Garson interviews span various demographic groups and have been impacted by the Great Recession. She traveled extensively across the country using her business and journalistic connections to find people affected by the housing crisis, who were unemployed or underemployed, who lost all their savings, who were seemingly in a state of shock that this had happened to hardworking, educated, middle class people like them.  Without their stories, there wouldn’t be a book.

So, I certainly didn’t mind any of the profiles which are supported by statistics. I deeply understand the situations of almost every person in this book (except for the last few mentioned toward the end, who had pre-Recession wealth in the millions).


The reasons I related so well to this book are the same reasons why I had a really hard time with it. 

Allow me to explain.

Down the Up Escalator has a very detached feeling in the personal stories. I struggled with this, because it wasn’t the stories themselves that were the problem. As I said, I could relate to them and the people behind them all too well. Instead, I think it’s this:

As a reader and as someone walking in the well-worn shoes of the people profiled in the book, the conversational, hey-let’s-have-lunch-and-chat-about-how-you’re-coping-with-the-recession interview format simply doesn’t work for me in Down the Up Escalator. I didn’t feel a single connection between the author and any of the people she interviewed, not even a GI that she met in a coffeehouse during the Vietnam War and reconnected with sporadically during the decades thereafter.

What Down the Up Escalator needed was a different structure, one with the focus more on the INDIVIDUALS and less on the verbal exchange between the author and subject. Because as it is, the result is way too much dialogue and interactions like these: (the “I” in the passages below is the author recounting her conversation with her interviewee):

“I wrecked Elaine’s mood by asking her to describe what happened on the day she was fired. 

‘The word is not ‘fired!’

‘I’m sorry, I just meant …’

‘Someone is fired when they do something bad. I was laid off because they found a computer program to do the invoicing.’

I apologized, stammering that to me a layoff meant something temporary, like a seasonal layoff at a factory. If they weren’t going to call you back, then ‘layoff’ was a euphemism. 

Feldman explained the term’s functional significance for him. ‘Laid off’ means you can still collect your severance and unemployment. You didn’t get fired for cause.’ (pg. 19)

and this:

“But bright, educated, unemployed people will surely drift into some kind of work eventually – won’t they?….At the rate at which full-time staff jobs are being phased out, the older long-term unemployed of this recession probably have less than a fifty-fifty chance of finding permanent, full-time jobs. But that’s statistics. All any individual needs is one job. (pg. 46) 

…for all my intellectual grasp of the downward trends for American workers, I just can’t believe that these four generous/selfish, mellow/excitable, unique/ordinary, and highly employable individuals will simply remain the long-term unemployed. Even though they might.” (pg. 47)

and this, in a conversation with a guy unemployed for five months:

“‘Maybe something more interesting than banking might turn up in one of those businesses,’ I suggested. ‘Down the line, I mean, as the economy recovers. Why not put feelers out?’

That got no response. 

‘Or what about teaching?’ I asked. ‘You seem to be good with children.’ 

Then I thought about all the teachers being laid off. What a stupid suggestion.” (pg. 103)

and this conversation, which comes across as somewhat patronizing, with a woman describing the frustration of trying to get through to her mortgage company on the phone:

“I was taking an Access-a-Ride back and forth to Manhattan, sometimes traveling four hours a day. Then you get home and call Ocwen, and it says, ‘The waiting time will be an hour and a half.’ 

‘They actually said an hour and a half?’ I asked dubiously. 

‘Do you remember that, Samuel? They would say, ‘Waiting time two hours,’ ‘Waiting time two hours forty minutes.’ So you take your food upstairs and you sit on the phone after work; you sit on the weekends. I called for months and they would put me in a queue.’

‘You must have gotten through to somebody, sometime?’ I said.” (pg.132)

and finally, this, to talk-Internet radio show celebrity Richard Bey (my Philadelphia friends will remember him from “People Are Talking” back in the mid-80s) who lost all of his savings in a Madoff-type investment fund.

“Richard,” I couldn’t help asking, “didn’t you ever think of the risk of having all your money in one fund?”

“Yes, Barbara, I did think about it,” he said in answer to my annoying question.(pg. 239)

There’s obviously a disconnect here. The author simply appears to be trying too hard to empathize with those she’s interviewing. And it backfires, which erodes the book’s credibility.

Because if you haven’t tried (or desperately needed) to sell your underwater house as your personal housing bubble was being popped by anonymous fat-cat bankers, and if you haven’t sat across from an interviewer and had to answer why you left your last position that you were laid off from and then answer the follow up question of what you’ve been doing in the six or nine or twelve months since, I think you can’t really empathize and understand what that is like for someone who has.

I listened to most of Down the Up Escalator on audio. While Jeanine Klein seems to be a fine narrator, there was just … a tone to this that rubbed me the wrong way. I then went back and read many of the interview portions (including those above) that I had difficulty with. I had the same reaction each time. I’m not sure whether it was the nuances in the audio narration or the actual words in print, or my coming at this from a personal place, but I had the same bristling reaction every single time.

Let’s go back to the quote that opened this review: “In the course of this recession millions more of us have slipped into that no place. Most of us will still manage to eat and keep our televisions connected. But it can’t be pleasant to live in a country whose elite have no regular use for us.”

This is contradictory. We never get a sense in Down the Up Escalator of how the recession has personally impacted the author – which is fine because this isn’t a memoir. But because that’s missing, the empathy is lost. One runs the risk of appearing elitist when making statements like “It can’t be pleasant to live in a country whose elite have no regular use for us.” 

No, it isn’t. It isn’t pleasant. IT FREAKING SUCKS.

We all have that friend, the one who means well but somehow always says the wrong damn thing. And that’s the impression I was left with from Down the Up Escalator. In no way, shape, or form, is this a feel-good book about our country’s economic future. It’s depressing as hell.

Perhaps there’s no better symbolism of that then the To Be Continued … portion of the book.

“I can’t quite bring myself to leave people I got to know personally – not to mention millions of others – in such distress. So I’ve created a Web site that we might call the ongoing book about the ongoing recession. 

A book eventually gets printed. But no deadline stops me from getting back to individuals to find out how they’re getting along. Their updates, taken together, may also give us some idea how the country is getting along. 

You can catch up with the folks you met in these pages at www.downtheupescalator.com.”

Except … well, you kind of CAN’T.

Because there ISN’T a website.

The link is broken. But, supposedly it’s coming soon. We’re to stay tuned.

Just like, I suppose, we’re still waiting for the end of the Great Recession that supposedly was over a few years ago.

2 stars out of 5


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Book Review: My Beef with Meat, by Rip Esselstyn

My Beef with Meat
My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet – Plus 140 New Engine 2 Recipes, by Rip Esselstyn
Grand Central Publishing
279 pages

Just in time for your Fourth of July barbeque comes my review of Rip Esselstyn’s new book, My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet. 

I know. Aren’t I just a kick in the pants? You’re probably thinking something along the lines of who the hell invited this killjoy (that would be me) to dinner? After all, it’s the Fourth of July; it’s practically un-American not to fire up some burgers, hot dogs, and chicken on the grill, right?

Well, as Americans, that’s sort of our problem.

Eating animal products (including dairy) is, according to Esselstyn, one of the causes of the dramatic increase in diseases and conditions such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, and others. We’ve gotten so used to thinking of these illnesses as an inevitable part of our lives and of the aging process that it becomes difficult to consider that there might be a different path. And indeed, there is.

In My Beef with Meat, Esselstyn, a former firefighter in Austin, TX, takes aim at all the myths and questions surrounding eating a plant-strong diet. For example, the issue of protein – and where in the world one can possibly get protein if one doesn’t eat meat. Although I knew that certain vegetables contained protein, I didn’t realize how plentiful it was in some fruits. In his book, Esselstyn breaks it down for his reader with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Database. A cup of strawberries, for instance, has 8.3% of protein. One orange? 7.4%.  There’s a whopping 9.3% in one peach. And again, that’s just fruits!

As a vegetarian myself for 17 years – and someone who tries to eat as plant-strong as possible  –  the protein issue is the number one question I get from people about my way of eating. Now, thanks to Rip Esselstyn, I have some good responses.

Esselstyn explains that the World Health Organization recommends that protein make up only about 10% of total calories in the human diet. (Others suggest up to 20% of our calories should come from protein sources.)

Given the fact that the average American consumes 200 pounds of meat each year, it’s probably a safe bet to say that most of us are consuming way more than the recommended 10-20% of protein.

Yeah. Read that again. That’s not a typo.

The average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.

Think about that as you fire up your grill this week.

Another myth that Esselstyn shatters is that it’s expensive to eat a diet of primarily fruits vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts. When compared to the cost of doctors’ visits, prescriptions, and lost time from work, a plant-based diet seems downright cheap. Beans, oats, bananas, potatoes, and brown rice are all very affordable.

Speaking of costs, Esselstyn gets into that with the sustainability issue as it affects the planet. It takes seven pounds of grain and 2,400 gallons of water to produce just one pound of “factory-farmed beef.” That’s a lot of water to make those 200 pounds of meat that a person eats each year.

And don’t get me started on the chemicals and contaminants. Esselstyn states that the FDA estimates that meat contains 500 and 600 different kinds of unnatural chemicals – but that our government only tests for 60 of them. Sixty! And again, we wonder why we’re seeing increased numbers of people with cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Do I sound like I’m lecturing or as if I’m a vegetarian proselytizer? Then that’s just me. Really. Because in My Beef with Meat, Esselstyn doesn’t come across that way at all. With a very approachable, simple, and down-to-earth manner, Rip gives his reader a big bowl of statistics flavored with some humor. (Chapters have titles like “Oil is the New Snake Oil,” “Barbeque + Meat = Danger,” and even “Poops from Heaven.”)  He doesn’t make you feel guilty; he doesn’t give you a hard sell.

What Rip Esselstyn does do is present a reasonable, common-sense approach to eating more plant-based foods – along with 140 recipes to help you get started (or, if you’re pretty much a convert to the plant-strong way of eating like me, to inspire you with new ideas). All of the recipes in the book are plant-strong (meaning, no animal products or by-products), contain no added oils, use little or no salt, use minimally-processed sweeteners such as maple syrup or dates, and are very easy to make.

I confess I didn’t have a chance to try and review any of the recipes in My Beef with Meat before writing up this review. I do, however, make a very close version of the Tomato Sandwich. Nonetheless, I’m hoping to get to these new Engine 2 recipes soon:

  • Anne’s Pumpkin Muffins
  • Cranberry-Polenta French Toast
  • No-Moo-Here Mashed Potatoes
  • Fire Brigade Stuffing
  • Mad Greek Gyro
  • Bad 2 the Bone Chili
  • Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas
  • Handstand Burgers
  • Spicy Spinach and Black Bean Burgers (a Happy Herbivore recipe!)
  • Crispy Polenta Strips
  • Fast and Fresh Marinara Sauce
  • Tortilla Soup with Crispy Sticks
  • and almost all of the dressings, hummus varieties, guacamoles, and spreads.

In the meantime, I have some Fourth of July grillin’ to do. Pass the corn on the cob, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, portabella mushrooms, and pineapple!

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for providing me an advance e-copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.


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Declaring My Independence From Accepting (Almost) Any More Books For Review

Book Blogger Convention, May 2010

“You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know, we’re just doing what we can.” 
John Lennon, “Revolution” 

I know I’m not the only book blogger to notice the increase in the number of emails and requests from publishers and authors. I know this because others (who have much bigger platforms and much more star-power in the world of book blogging than I do) have also written about this very issue. 

I am but a minnow in a very big school of fish of bloggers, someone who reads 60 some odd books per year, on average, give or take. In the world of book bloggers, that’s a pittance. I don’t even review every book I read. (Have you LOOKED at my Books I’ve Read in 2012 (Links Take You to My Reviews) Sidebar lately, with all of 9 out of 29 books reviewed? See what I mean?)

Yet, lately, it seems as though the requests from authors, from publishers, from … everyone has reached a fever pitch (no pun intended; OK, maybe a little bit).

This is, I know, due to several factors: the dynamics of the publishing market, the greater awareness of the power of book blogs. Yes, the power of book blogs. There, I said it because it is true, because we haz it.

My dilemma as a book blogger is no different than that of my peers. Quite simply, while I enjoy receiving new books for review and discovering new authors, I no longer have the time nor the ability to filter through and respond to every email requesting a review. Because what’s been happening is some variation of this scenario:

I get an email pitching me a book.
I decline to review said book, explaining to the author that I’m not accepting review books at the present time.
The author then responds by asking WHEN I will be accepting review books again.

Well, damned if I know. Maybe never.

Or it degenerates into a pleading, embarrassing I know you’ll really love my book Beg-A-Thon.

Not all of them, mind you. But this has happened with more than a few and on more than a few occasions. Way more than a few.

So, starting today, I’ve declared my independence from being beholden to the book reviews. I’ve already made my peace with not reviewing every book I read. I’ll strive for that, but … eh, if it happens, great. My review policy (which nobody reads anyway) is now all of four sentences.

Updated JULY 5, 2012:
Thank you for considering me as a potential blogger to review your book. While I truly appreciate your interest and your time in contacting me for a review, I am currently limiting the review books I accept to those affiliated with TLC BOOK TOURSI am also unable to reply to every email requesting a review. 
Thank you for your understanding.

I greatly enjoy my relationship with TLC Book Tours (who doesn’t know I am writing this and singing their praises, by the way) and for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the books they’ve sent my way. Sure, there have been some that haven’t quite worked for me, but that’s to be expected. Moreover, they understand when that happens and the onus isn’t on me to plead a mea culpa to the author awaiting their review after our email exchange.

This, then, is my solution to the “do I or don’t I” continue to accept books for review dilemma. I will, but through TLC Book Tours. And Netgalley, which I also love. Some may or may not agree on this approach, but combined with my all-too-frequent visits to the library and my need to read from my own stacks, it’s what I think will work for this book blogger and my life.

And really, that’s all that matters.

Because it’s time to treat myself with a little more TLC as far as this reviewing books thing is concerned.

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon: January Reading Blahs

I skipped last week’s Salon because my day was consumed with looking at several houses, which was infinitely more interesting and exciting than anything I would have had to say about my reading week.

(The house stuff will have to be a separate post because I have much more to say, but the Reader’s Digest version is that we wound up finding a house we liked AND putting an offer in on it AND having that offer accepted, all of which means we’ll be moving exactly one month from now. This is just 5 minutes away from where we are now, which keeps us in the same town and the kids in their same school.)

Anyway, so back to the books. Is it just me or is anyone else also having themselves kind of a “blah” reading month this January?  Is it the weather, the post-holiday slump … or what? I can’t really put my finger on what’s going on.

Had I written a Salon post last week, I would have told you that I had a busy travel week last week, with much time in the car affording me lots of time to listen to Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. This held my attention while on the road, but once again, this is one of those books where everyone in the world seems to rave about it and I’m the one shrugging my shoulders saying, “Eh … it was just OK.”  In fact, I kept thinking of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars while listening to this.

Last week, I also read (and reviewed here) Smut by Alan Bennett, which came my way via NetGalley. This was my first time reading Alan Bennett, and I liked the two stories (“The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes”) in this book. Both stories center on the aspects of our personalities and character that we keep hidden from others, our reasons for doing so, and how these qualities shape us.  There is a significant bit of language and eyebrow-raising scenes in these stories, but it is there to illustrate Bennett’s point that sometimes the people who think they know us best are the ones who know us least of all (including ourselves).

Into this past week came my first possible DNF of the year.  I’m not too surprised, given the reading month I’ve been having, but I’m really surprised it was this particular book, Lottery by Patrica Wood. Again, this is a book that a lot of people have praised (and that won, I believe, the Orange Prize in 2008) and that I really should have loved.

I have no idea why that wasn’t the case.

There’s some rough language in here, (which again, doesn’t offend me). There’s also some frequent use of the r-word, which greatly DOES offend me, as a mom of a child with autism. In this case, I absolutely understand the point and the usage of it in this novel – but it was still jarring, listening to it on audio while driving.  I cringed everytime I heard it, and by Chapter 4, I couldn’t take it anymore and turned this off.  I purchased a copy of this at a book sale awhile back, so perhaps I’ll try it again in print form. (When I unpack it from a box that’s in storage, that is.)

Finally, as dismal a reading month that January has been, I think I’m ending the month on a high note with The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright.  Now this one is intriguing.  I’m rather enjoying this story, told by somewhat unreliable narrator Gina Moynihan “girl about town” about her love affair with Sean Vallely. It’s a story about the “memory of desire: a recollection of the bewildering speed of attraction, the irreparable slip into longing.”

(And I just love that cover, don’t you?)

OK.  My grocery shopping and box-packing awaits. Hope you’re having a good Sunday!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Book Review: Smut, Stories by Alan Bennett

Stories by Alan Bennett
Received via NetGalley 

When I revealed on Facebook that I was reading a book called Smut (along with Ben Mezrich’s Sex on the Moon, which has since gone back to the library unread), I think some of my new friends (and some that knew me back in my high school days) might have gotten the wrong impression of me.

And if you were operating under the assumption that Smut is a trashy tome, well, you would be mistaken, too.

Before getting into a discussion on Alan Bennett’s book, which is all of two short stories (“The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes”), let us review the definition of the word itself, with some help from our friends at dictionary.com:

smut [smuht]
1. a particle of soot; sooty matter.
2. a black or dirty mark; smudge.
3. indecent language or publications; obscenity.
4. Plant Pathology .
a. a disease of plants, especially cereal grasses, characterized by the conversion of affected parts into black, powdery masses of spores, caused by fungi of the order Ustilaginales.
b. a fungus causing this disease.
verb (used with object)
5. to soil or smudge.

So, yes, there is a bit of #3 (indecent language and obscenity) and eye-brow raising scenes in Smut. Bennett’s use of such isn’t gratuitous; rather, it is to illustrate the point that we all have aspects of our personalities that we keep hidden from others and even (sometimes especially) ourselves. Sometimes the people who think they know us best are the ones who know us least of all.

Of the two stories, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” (the first) was my favorite – simply because it seemed to be more original in its premise than the second. A recently widow, Mrs. Donaldson spends her days at the local teaching hospital, where she is employed as an actress portraying a “patient” or a family member of a sick person. She works with medical students and their instructor, and their role-playing serves as a means for  the students to gain insight and compassionate on how to care and treat those who are sick and bereaved. Mrs. Donaldson is a pretty good actress (almost too good at times) and enjoys being around the students – so much so that she takes in two of them as “lodgers” in her home.  When they’re short on rent, the lodgers and Mrs. Donaldson come to an … alternative agreement.

“The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” was a much funnier story than “Mrs. Donaldson” (the opening dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Forbes is hysterical).  Again, this is a story about relationships and what we chose to reveal to others and to ourselves and what we keep hidden.  Graham Forbes son is getting married, and his mother (who has placed her son on a pedestal) thinks he can do much better than Tracy. Little does she know, there’s much more to Tracy than there appears – as well as with her precious, perfect Graham (and her own husband).  

Smut marks the first time I’ve read Alan Bennett, and when I saw this offered on NetGalley for review, I wanted to try it because he was an author I’d heard much about, mainly due to An Uncommon Reader. I also love short stories and I especially love trying new authors in the short story format, which made this appealing.  While I was confused at the beginning of “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” (it took me a few pages to understand that Mrs. Donaldson was an actress), Bennett did grab my attention immediately and held onto it throughout each story.  (The British humor and language also threw me for a loop, but that’s due to my own quirks and issues with British humor; I don’t always have a good sense of it, much to The Husband’s deep dismay.)

Overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read and one that has made me curious to read more of Alan Bennett in the future.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Savidge Reads

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Book Review: A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology

A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology
by JK Coi, PG Forte, Stacy Gail, and Jenny Schwartz
Carina Press
Received from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review

We’re still within the 12 days of Christmas, aren’t we? I mean, this is my last day of Christmas break (as is The Husband’s and the kids) so I think I’m good in getting this review posted in the nick of time for the holiday season. Not that it really matters, because even though A Clockwork Christmas is billed as “A Steampunk Christmas Anthology,” there isn’t very much in the way of the yuletide in these four novellas that comprise this collection. Trust me when I say you’re good to go if you want to read this in the middle of July.

A Clockwork Christmas does, however, deliver in regards to the steampunk elements – which I had to look up, being that I’m very new to the steampunk genre. I requested A Clockwork Christmas from NetGalley because I thought a Christmas-themed collection of novellas would be a good introduction to the genre as well as be a fun, entertaining book to read on my Kindle during our 6 hour drive (each way) to and from Philadelphia for the holidays. And that it absolutely was.

(For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with steampunk, here’s how Wikipedia describes it: a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that involves a setting where steam power is used, most often in Victorian era Britain or the Wild West era of the United States. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architecture, etc.)

Now, there’s an added element in A Clockwork Christmas that certain readers might want to know about beforehand and that bears mentioning. Carina Press is a publisher of romance novels – some of them on the steamy side, from some of the descriptions of ones I’ve seen – and the first two steampunk novellas (and even the fourth) in A Clockwork Christmas are definitely powered by that particular type of … uh, steam. From what I understand and can gather from reading other reviews, this isn’t typical of most steampunk works. (Or maybe it is. I don’t know. I don’t have enough experience with the genre, truthfully, but I do know that it is definitely present here. In great – sometimes, often graphic – detail.)

So, some readers may not appreciate that added romantic element. As for me? Well, that didn’t bother me nor did it take away from my enjoyment of these four novellas.

Take Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail, the first novella in the anthology and my favorite of the four. This is the story of Cornelia, a beautiful professional thief who grew up knowing no other way of life and who keeps her physical and emotional scars hidden from anyone who tries to get close to her. When Roderick discovers that Cornelia has stolen a valuable (and sentimental) Faberge egg from him, he demands that she return it – or he’ll make certain that she won’t live to see Christmas Day. The tension between the two is delicious and makes for a fun and entertaining (and steamy!) story.

Then we have This Winter Heart, by PG Forte, which I also liked. Destitute, Ophelia has returned (from eastern Pennsylvania!) to her husband Dario’s estate in the Wild West, after being away for eight years during the Civil War. (An interesting twist there: in this tale, the Civil War happens to have been won by the South.) Lia, as she is known, doesn’t return alone; she arrives with her 8 year old son, whose father happens to be (you guessed it) the cad Dario.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise to Dario, who believed Lia to be barren – and, because of her father’s inventor interventions – inhuman as well. He treats her callously, refusing to admit that he once had feelings for her – and perhaps, still does.

Esme Smith is the protagonist of Wanted: One Scoundrel, Jenny Schwartz’s novella about a suffragette in Australia who hires Jed Reeve (“a scoundrel”) to promote her feminist agenda in the male social clubs that she’s denied access to because she’s a woman. I gotta say … I loved Esme, who was my favorite of all the strong female lead characters presented here. I just adored her independence, smarts, and spunk in a time when women’s voices were often silenced and that made Wanted: One Scoundrel a fun story to read. (Plus, there was a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.) And while I liked the romance between Cornelia and Roderick in Crime Wave in a Corset, I really liked the relationship with Esme and Jed.

Finally, JK Coi’s Far From Broken was a heartbreaking story about a accomplished ballerina who suffers a horrible crime as revenge for her husband’s work as a government spy, the lengths that one will go to save a life, and what it means to be human. There are some similar thematic elements to This Winter Heart in this one, but it is different enough to stand alone. This one had me riveted to my Kindle, as it was the novella I spent New Year’s Eve with.

While I thought the Christmas aspect of A Clockwork Christmas was definitely lacking, overall this was an enjoyable, entertaining, turbo-charged romantic read with strong characters and good writing. I’m glad I gave it a try, as it was one of my most surprising reads of 2011. These four novellas were a great introduction to steampunk and while I don’t think I’ll be abandoning my regular preferences anytime soon, I would certainly consider reading additional works by these talented authors.

What Other Bloggers Thought (did I miss your review? Let me know in the comments!)

Reading Thru the Night

Thanks for sharing this post!