Family Ties and Otherwise | What We’re Reading

This week our contributors from School Library Journal and Library Journal contemplate family ties, YA myths and fantasy, moviemaking, seducers and why women love them, mysteries, how to write, and the dangers of mansplaining.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Library Journal
I’ve always enjoyed learning about the study of nonhuman primates. (Think apes who were taught to use sign language, such as Koko, Washoe, or Nim Chimpsky.) So I eagerly snapped up Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Marian Wood: Putnam), the story of a girl, Rosemary, who until age five was raised with a chimpanzee named Fern as part of a scientific experiment. It’s a depressing story, though, because Fern abruptly disappeared from Rosemary’s life (the author still hasn’t revealed exactly what happened, except that Rosemary blames herself). This work is full of compelling prose that stays with the reader. Here’s just one passage, that takes place right after Rosemary and her family have moved to a new home:

As I made my way for the first time through the house I would live in until I was eighteen, I began to suspect what had happened. I could find no place where the graduate students would work. I looked and looked, back upstairs and then down again, but could find only three bedrooms. One of them was my brother’s. One of them was our mother and father’s. One of them was mine. I hadn’t been given away.

Someone else had.

Shelley M. Diaz, Associate Editor, School Library Journal
I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Morrow). The wistful ending is still tugging at me. What a wondrous book!
Currently I’m savoring Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves (Scholastic), the sequel to her Raven Boys. Each character is fully formed and the plot threads are so tightly knitted. She’s truly a master of the craft.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ
Unlike my colleague Stephanie (see below), I will divulge at least a little about my choices for LJ’s 2013 best books. I am still mulling over one possibility and am enthralled by another—but I’m not finished with it. Things could change.
The muller-over  is Betsy Prioleau’s Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (Norton). I like the author’s historical notes, but her modern-day seducers and their case histories are not as compelling to me. I did enjoy this commentary, about ladykillers, in the chapter titled “Lassoing Love: The Senses”:

If great lovers didn’t exist, they would have been imagined. As studies have revealed, plenty of women care about good sex. Surprisingly, they’re often the ones you see at the check-out counter with a romance novel, the best-selling and steamiest book genre. At the center of these stories is explicit sex and ladykillers who wax sentimental, ring all the right chimes, and grant heaven-scaling orgasms. Jack Travis in Lisa Kleypas’s Smooth Talking Stranger tells the heroine after an aria of sweet nothings, I want to “have sex with you until you scream and cry and see God.” He’s as good as his word.

Whew! I’ll have what she’s having.
The book that made me almost miss my subway stop is The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend (Bloomsbury) by Glenn Frankel. It’s an examination of the true story behind the Texas legend behind the best-selling novel behind the iconic movie directed by John Ford. So far I’ve read the harrowing, heartbreaking, and grisly “true story” part. Just in case you didn’t know this, life on the frontier in the 1800s was HARD, people. I don’t think I’ll complain about the coffee shop getting my order wrong or how the greenmarket didn’t have my favorite kind of tomato any time soon. I’ll report back next week on the second half, which covers the filming of the 1956 western in gorgeous Monument Valley. So far, though, Frankel has me in the palm of his hand.

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
Aside from my TOP SECRET reading to help me decide which titles are going to be my nominations for LJ’s 2013 best books list, I started Deborah Crombie’s No Mark upon Her (Morrow) this week. A new writer to me, Crombie is a native Texan who sets her books in the UK. This one is about the death of a woman who was both an Olympic-level rower and a high-ranking member of the Metropolitan Police. I’m not far in at this point, but I’m guessing she had a secret or two that will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I am halfway through Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several short sentences about writing (Vintage), which is the only how-to book I have ever read that is itself a delight at the sentence level, almost a poem. I’m not sure I agree with all the advice, but the beauty of the writing is a powerful argument in favor of the technique it advocates. Actually, the writing is so good it distracts me from the message. Not that it isn’t all a wonder of clarity and incisiveness; Klinkenborg would never tolerate flourishes that didn’t earn their keep. It’s just that I feel like I’m standing under a waterfall trying to count the fish. They’re all right there in front of me, and it’s entirely my fault that I get caught up instead in feeling the pounding of the current and watching the refraction of the light.
I also just finished Eric Smith’s The Geek’s Guide to Dating, which really should have been called The Straight Geek Guy’s Guide to Dating. The halfhearted attempt to include “lady geeks” is way more offensive than just owning the target audience would have been, and the existence of queer geeks is never acknowledged. It’s not all bad. There’s some decent advice about avoiding geek-specific fails like credential checking “fake geek girls,” rescue-the-princess or Manic Pixie Dreamgirl syndromes, and mansplaining, as well as a lot of overly conservative but mostly harmless general dating advice dressed up in geek culture references. But even there, it’s got some weird gaps and retro assumptions.


Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email:, Twitter: @lizefrench