Not for the Timid | What We’re Reading

We’re reading across the spectrum this week at Library Journal/School Library Journal, with nonfiction and fiction both represented. A cross theme of strong women, from actress Anjelica Huston to warrior maiden Alanna to Anne Frank’s sister, is in play, with some humor and fantastic fantasy thrown in. There’s also real-life drama, as beleaguered hospital staffers make life-and-death decisions after Hurricane Katrina swamps and isolates them.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Library Journal

This week, I’m reading Kids These Days by Drew Perry (Algonquin). This novel about a couple awaiting their first child reminds me a bit of the indie film Away We Go, also about a rootless expectant thirtysomething pair. After Walt loses his job and Alice gives up hers, the couple move to Florida, where Walt will work for Alice’s brother-in-law, Mid. Sounds simple, but there’s already a strain of quirkiness running through this one (Mid just handed Walt a check for 30 grand to cover him and Alice for the next few months in lieu of a traditional paycheck and told him that part of his job entails checking up on a self-serve ice station once or twice a week).



Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ

I’ve recently started Jillian Cantor’s Margot (Riverhead: Penguin) which explores the question of what would have happened if Margot Frank managed to survive the Holocaust and flee to America. Now Margie Franklin living in 1959 Philadelphia, Margot is trying to quietly navigate her new identity while constantly being bombarded by her sister’s unexpected fame through The Diary of Anne Frank and the sensationalism that comes with it.

While Cantor’s language can feel repetitive at times its rawness packs a punch as Margot struggles with the paranoia of being found out and her hope that perhaps her beloved Peter was also afforded a miraculous escape from a horrific end. It captures the way unspeakable tragedy can keep you at a standstill as it holds you in a vise grip and plagues your every day. Reading about Margot’s what-if only emphasizes the harsh reality that she, and so many others, were senselessly robbed of the basic right of life. Readers beware of the heavy heart that will most likely come along with this book, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ

There’s a lot of potential in Koethi Zan’s debut, The Never List (Pamela Dorman: Viking), and I did burn through it like a flash, but the end is a pile-up of improbabilities and downright ludicrous plot points. Not to mention, there’s a certain twist/surprise that anybody over the age of eight will see coming long before our heroine does. But. Zan zings in a couple of spots, so I’m including two very short excerpts, and looking forward to her sophomore effort.

Our heroine, who goes by several names, is the survivor of a brutal abduction (by a psych prof) and she was tortured by him in his private library. Therefore she has a phobia. She must power through this and other fears to stop her abductor from being released from prison. So she heads to the campus where he taught, to meet his former assistant:

Early the next morning, I drove back out to campus to find Adele. She had left a note that she was in the library. I found her at a large wooden gable in the back stacks of the third floor. The ceilings were high, and dust from the books penetrated the air. Libraries still made me nervous.

Later in the book, our heroine teams up with another former captive, Tracy, as they search for a witness who previously lived in a small Alabama town:

When we finally reached the town, we could tell it was dying. The main street was lined with quaintly faded red-brick Depression-era buildings, which had nothing but “to lease” signs in the windows. There was one bank in the center of town, and we passed a post office, the town hall, and a single chain drugstore. No parking lot had more than two cars in it. A small restaurant displayed a placard declaring it was “open,” but through the windows you could see chairs flipped over onto tables. The lights were out.

“What do people here do for a living?” I said, as I stared out at the empty buildings.

“The ambitious ones make meth. The others take it. Or maybe work at the fast-food joints in the ‘new’ part of town. Welcome to the rest of America.”

Barbara A. Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ

I am really wallowing in the guilty pleasures of Anjelica Huston’s A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York (Scribner), the first part of a projected two-volume memoir by the estimable Ms. Huston. The child of a glamorous mother Enrica Soma (ballet dancer, decorator, and eventually, estranged fourth wife) and her larger-than-life father John Huston (director, screenwriter, actor, horseman, drinker, art collector, gambler, raconteur, and ladies’ man). Huston, the son of Academy Award–winning actor Walter Huston, was known for films like The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Misfits, The Dead, and so many more.

Anjelica’s childhood was one of both immense indulgence and deep neglect. I confess I am quite taken by what some might reject as name-dropping and utterly fascinated by her cataloging of house guests and suspected affairs, the treasures brought back from film locations, foxhunting with the Irish landed gentry, and her burgeoning maturity and early modeling career. If one can get beyond the distance in her tone (it sometimes seems that she is looking at her intense early life backwards through a telescope), this is surprisingly revelatory. Film-loving readers will also discover the seeds of her later indelible characters: Maerose in Prizzi’s Honor, Morticia in The Addams Family, Gretta in The Dead, and Patricia the abandoning mother in Darjeeling Limited. Cannot wait for volume two.

Rebecca Miller, Editor-in-Chief, SLJ & LJ

I continue to catch up on key YA literature—and, after a big day closing an issue of Library Journal yesterday, I enjoyed staying up until midnight reading Alanna (Atheneum), by Margaret Edwards Award winner Tamora Pierce. I think it’s the start of a fine reading friendship.

Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ

I am reading The Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine: Scholastic) by Alaya Dawn Johnson and you should be too—at least if you have any interest in amazingly nuanced YA fantasy world building. Or the sociopolitical uses of art, deliberate mythologizing, or science fiction not derived from U.S. or Western European cultures (it is set in a future Brazil). Or class, gender, or social implications of nanotechnology.

It’s a bildungsroman, but I’d also recommend it to adult sf readers with no particular interest in YA, much like Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker.

It’s really not like anything else I’ve ever read, but it could be considered somewhat in the same conversation as Sherri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country or Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”—tackling the question of what we do to survive and thrive as a civilization in the midst of disaster, and at whose expense.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ

I’m a chapter into Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown). Sheri Fink’s Pulitzer Prize-winning title documents the devastation of Hurricane Katrina at the New Orleans hospital where staff were later accused of killing patients during the storm. Just the preface of this book, which meticulously explains, for example, the author’s methods of documenting conversations that present conflicting details, tells me it’s going to be a penetrating medical and personal saga on the level of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The opening chapter had me on the edge of my seat even though I know the outcome: it describes the slow dawning realization of a doctor at Memorial that no help was coming and that he and his colleagues would have to euthanize the last patients who could not be moved, rather than leaving them to die agonizing deaths after their last dose of morphine wore off.

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