Post-PLA, Purim, and St. Patrick’s Day | What We’re Reading

As many of our colleagues head home from the Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Indianapolis, filled to the brim with news about books, authors, and librarians, those of us who stayed behind console ourselves with a green book; advice from and gossip about theater royalty; worlds where women forge alliances; and some “women’s fiction” both light and dark.

The RedgravesMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, School Library Journal
This week, no Beatles for me, but I am still all about celeb lifestyles. This time, it’s the Redgraves. I just started Donald Spoto’s The Redgraves: A Family Epic (Crown Archetype). Loving the casual name-dropping of Laurence (or “Larry”) Olivier in particular!

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ
While editing a performing arts/theater review of Jon Jory’s The Complete Tips: Ideas for Actors (Smith & Kraus) by one of LJ’s wackiest and funniest reviewers, the zany and irrepressible Barry X. Miller, I came across this:

The 316 tips, most no longer than half a page, are thematically divided among 17 broad categories including “Basics,” “Technique,” “Text,” “People Stuff” (which includes valuable advice for “Dealing with a Diva”)…

I paused over the reference to “Dealing with a Diva,” chuckled, then moved on to edit a metric ton of performing arts reviews after that. Then I guess I found something shiny and forgot all about the review. But the other day, when I was clearing my shelves of duplicate review copies, The Complete Tips fell on the floor, and wouldn’t you know it, the book opened to that very page. So I share part of theater veteran and very smart man Jory’s advice, from p. 169:

First, be aware of the power structure in the production. Second, use every effort not to get involved with a faction. Don’t dish the participants over a beer, no matter how seductive it seems. Those who do are likely to take a fall. Concentrate on the play and the text. Defend important points that affect you, but on the basis of what’s best for the text. Keep your own ego under control. Avoid matters of personality; try to stay objective. Stay away from the sardonic, the cynical, and the sarcastic…

There’s more from Jory, but I’ll leave you with this snippet. The man’s a genius, I tell ya, and this advice applies to a larger world than that of the theater—just sayin’.

grasshopperBarbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
The bright chartreuse cover (complete with antennae) of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle: A History (Dutton) has gotta tell you something. This is not your garden-variety YA. Or even a typical “new adult.” This is an intoxicating mix of old-school science fiction hopped up on meth. Grasshopper offers readers a potent dose of a real-word dystopia. The tale is cooked up with intense, honest, and often really funny riffs on adolescent sexual angst and served with a side of impending apocalypse. Styled as 16-year-old Austin Szerba’s “history” journal, the book takes us into the depressed (and depressing) community of Ealing, IA. The place is notable for its grim landscape of vacant shopping centers, parking lots, pizzerias, a jumble shop, a liquor store, a Lutheran high school, and a now emptied showerhead factory that just happens to have a sinister Cold War history. Both a starred title and an SLJ Pick of the Day, this book has already been touted in both The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. Maybe the movies will be the next stop, per this Entertainment Weekly tidbit.
In short, this is a funny, crazy, sweet, sexy (very sexy), honest, and wry navigation of the familiar yet treacherous terrain of teenage sex drives, virginity, and sexual confusion. (Austin is definitely “questioning”). You will be hooked as these wonderfully sweet and hopelessly confused heroes (Austin, his best friend/crush Robby, and Austin’s girlfriend Shann) struggle to survive a plague of voracious, sex- and food-crazed, giant mutant-killer-cannibal-insects.
No, I am not making this up. Smith did. This one’s a best read with The Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street playing full blast.

One Kick Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
This week, I devoured Chelsea Cain’s upcoming release, One Kick (August 2014, S. & S.), which—ahem—kicks off a new series with a protagonist who was a child abductee. Ten years after her rescue, Kick Lannigan gets involved in an investigation into several related abductions and a child pornography ring, which all ends up hitting a bit close to home. It’s action-packed and, as you might imagine, rather dark reading, and when I finished, I found myself craving a romantic comedy to cleanse my reading palate a bit. I’ve always heard terrific things about Jennifer Crusie but hadn’t read her before. I picked up a copy of Maybe This Time (St. Martin’s) for a test drive: reunited lovers, a creepy house—and ghosts! With about half of the book under my belt, I can say that I fully understand Crusie’s popularity. Crackling dialog, excellent characterizations, and believable conflict combine for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Shining Court Meredith Schwartz, Editor, News & Features, LJ
I’m still progressing through Michelle West’s “Sun Sword” series. I am now in the midst of book three, The Shining Court (Daw). I continue to be struck by the way that West manages to show women with strong personalities and agendas embedded in a society where women have little to no power. She doesn’t turn them into exceptions, rebels, or runaways, she shows how they get things done by manipulating or slipping between the cracks of the system, but she doesn’t soften the ways in which that is insufficient.
Similarly, I am impressed by the nuanced relationships between enemies with much in common, allies with little, temporary partnerships of convenience and surprisingly permanent friendships across barriers of social status or loyalties. Every connection of every character, major or minor, feels worked out from the first principles of their personality.
I keep being brought up short by minor discrepancies between this series and the spin-off (“The House War”). I don’t know yet if they’re continuity errors or plot points, but I find it distracting. I’m also starting to notice how consistently blood ties between parents and children are portrayed as a weakness across societies which otherwise have little in common. Either blindness to their faults, or being held hostage to their needs, fears, or safety, seem to be endemic; the only people who seem to have experienced these relationships as strengths are those who have lost them. Mentorships by stern but admirable mother surrogates, in contrast, are surprisingly thick on the ground.

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