Geeking, Freaking, Sneaking, and Swimming | What We’re Reading

This week in the School Library Journal /Library Journal stacks, staffers are perusing murder by man and animal; spies; cult TV shows; boarding schools/riding camps; and fun times with werewolves. It’s a September smorgasbord of reading!

Ian Chant, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just finished The Jennifer Morgue (Ace) by Charles Stross, which is a home run for anyone who’s read a spy thriller and found themselves thinking “This is great and all, but it needs more Great Old Ones.” The second in Stross’s “Laundry Files” series, this book follows Bob Howard, a harried British civil servant responsible for foiling the dastardly plans of evil forces from beyond the realms of man—when he’s not troubleshooting IT problems or working to find a way through the red tape of a government office, that is.

A great, unabashed take on the James Bond series, The Jennifer Morgue falls somewhere between parody and homage to Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy. Fans of the old Bond tropes—glamorous love interests, high-tech spy gadgets, two-fisted action, high-speed chases, and of course a de rigueur billionaire with dreams of global world domination (complete with fluffy white cat)—will find a lot to love in Stross’s tale, while sci-fi heads will appreciate the replacement of debonair 007 with an IT nerd who would rather play Xbox than baccarat. Stross jumpstarts the well-trod turf of the spy story with some help from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and a heady dose of geek humor, resulting in a refreshing cocktail for fans of either genre—shaken, not stirred, of course.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Book Review, LJ
I’m just finishing up David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity (St. Martin’s). The book focuses on many incidents of orca aggression at SeaWorld and other aquariums, including the infamous killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the whale Tilikum in 2010 (also the subject of the recent documentary Blackfish). Kirby sharply contrasts descriptions of killer whales in the wild with those in captivity, making the concept of aquariums seem downright barbaric. (Indeed, the book describes how despite our best efforts, orcas suffer physically and psychologically in aquariums.)

And now for something completely different! I’m also midway through Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Riverhead). Set during the Great Depression, it’s a story of a teenage girl who is sent away from home to a boarding school/riding camp as punishment for a shameful misdeed.

Liz French, Associate Editor, Book Review, LJ
Like my coworker Mahnaz, I am climbing into the way-back machine. The Impersonator (Minotaur), a fiction debut by Mary Miley, is set in the 1920s and some of the action takes place on the Vaudeville circuit. The spunky heroine, a from-the-cradle trouper, is hired by an unscrupulous man to impersonate his niece, who disappeared seven years ago. The niece stands to inherit a sizable fortune upon her majority and Uncle wants to split the take with Leah, who looks astonishingly like Jessie Carr. Can she pull it off? What happened to the real Jessie? Did one of her family members do her in, or will she show up at the 21st birthday party to unmask Leah and claim her fortune? Leah begins to care about her new “family,” at least some of them, and she tries to puzzle out what happened to Jessie—and if her disappearance years ago has anything to do with the murders of young women in the area. The Oregon coast setting is marvelous, giving some of the story a gothic air, and Miley really knows her stuff as far as the 20s go. There’s even a cameo by Jack Benny!

Guy L. Gonzalez, Director, Content Strategy & Audience Development, SLJ/LJ
I’m reading three books I got for my birthday last month, all graphic novel(la)s by one of my favorite storytellers, Jason. Werewolves of Montpellier (Fantagraphics ) is a typically wry Jason read, but not his best work, while I Killed Adolf Hitler (Fantagraphics) is on par with some of his best. (The Left Bank Gang and The Living and the Dead are probably my favorites.) I’m looking forward to Lost Cat next, which has garnered some great reviews and I think it’s his longest work to date.

Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
Continuing my pop-culture (meta)streak (I did read other stuff in between, I swear!) I am reading Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly (Smart Pop: BenBella), ed. by Jane Espenson. So far, as befits Espenson’s status as a Mutant Enemy insider, the essays have focused more on parsing how the show was constructed to achieve its impact rather than reading new levels of metaphor into the gestalt, but I’m not very far in yet, so I don’t know if that idea holds for the whole book.

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