After Best Books, Dampness, Rants, Ferrante, & Apps | What We’re Reading

Last week, the LJ Reviews editors convened at the Brooklyn Public Library and selected the Top Ten Best Books of 2016. The day of discussion, defense, and voting was the culmination of a long period of megareading by all, me included. After that Friday, I sank into a movie and TV coma that lasted all the way to Monday, whereupon I was hungry for more books. I asked my “What We’re Reading” chums for suggestions and also for any spooktacular recommendations. The group came through with their usual kick-ass suggestions and highly personal choices. Check out our trick-or-treat leftovers below.

fatal-beauty-burleighMahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
This week, I leapt off the best books train and got on the plane to Italia! I’ve begun reading Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan” series and am so far loving it. Ferrante takes readers down the winding back alleys of Naples: grudges, disputes, and vendettas galore! The characters and settings are well crafted, but more than that, Ferrante’s reflections on the darker, competitive aspects of female friendship are striking and original.

After Naples, I found myself wandering in Perugia with Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox (Broadway: Crown). Master crime writer Burleigh tells the story of American college student Knox, who was accused and convicted of murdering her housemate Meredith Kercher. Integrating lush descriptions of Italian countryside, art, and history, her accounts of the crime and trial clarify why the Italian public so readily turned against Knox.

All in all, I’m enjoying my Italian sojourn, and I can’t wait to get back to Napoli!

iq-jpgthumbLiz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
My former (and much missed) colleague Henrietta Verma has been raving all over the Internet about Joe Ide’s debut novel, IQ, which features Isaiah Quintabe (IQ), an L.A.–based African American supersmart supersleuth, sort of along the lines of Sherlock Holmes of Compton. I enjoyed the book and could barely put it down, reading it in two nights. But once I did put it down, well…. For one thing, I can almost hear the pitch meeting, and this book has “make me a movie” written all over it (word is it’s already been acquired for a TV show, and Janet Maslin’s New York Times review mentions Ide’s time as a screenwriter). “It’s like Black Sherlock meets Boys in the Hood…maybe Method Man would like to play Cal….”

A whole passel of stereotypes inhabit this thriller, from the wannabe baby mama to the drugged-up rap mogul to the mercurial sidekick (eerily similar to Walter Mosley’s sociopathic character “Mouse”), and many of the characters have tacked-on quirks, such as the aforementioned mercurial sidekick’s flair for cooking and the saintly dead brother’s love of Motown. But it doesn’t matter. Every page has some exciting drama and derring-do, there’s a giant killer pit bull, car chases, last-minute rescues, and it’s wicked funny (think Mosley meets Elmore Leonard with a dash of Donald Westlake). Who am I kidding? I can’t wait to read book two.

eyeswidefleischmanMolly Hone, WWR emerita
I was particularly moved by Paul Fleischman’s Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines (Candlewick). This recent YA nonfiction explains climate change and other environmental issues—and the range of responses to it, from full-on denial to unabashed freeganism—in a gravely honest yet optimistic way. I’m learning a lot about what is going on and what I can do about it, and I feel fortunate to recommend this book to teen patrons. I’ve also been super into the hoopla app for libraries and am using it to read many comics, including Dark Horse’s witty, gritty Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seasons 8, 9, and 10and Brian K. Vaughan’s new series Paper Girls (Image), which is excellent and perfect for fans of the TV series Stranger Things.

theloney-hurleyLisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I actually read a spooky book in October just to be seasonally appropriate: Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney (Houghton Harcourt), a contemporary British horror story. Such a damp book—I guess that’s what England does best when it needs to be ominous—water-stained walls, feral tides, sucking sand, and rain, rain, rain. It was a good, if slightly opaque, theologically inclined gothic tale, with scary houses and Satanists and faith being questioned left and right. When I first closed the book I thought the ending was somewhat soggy, but after a bit of thought I’ve decided it was very clever, if maybe too subtle. All in all, the story kept me rapt and appreciative of being dry—a good spooky tale.

After The Loney I needed a little sunshine and citrus, so I read Ann Patchett’s newest, Commonwealth (Harper). And, sorry to say, this may be the most boring review I’ve ever written here because I loved it and have nothing negative to offer. Sweet, funny, dark, compassionate, and well written, this is one of the most generous novels I’ve read in a long time.

feminist-jessa-crispinHenrietta Verma, WWR emerita
Dear Liz: Next you should read Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto (Melville House). I want to read this, too, because I’m tired of being held to the highest standards of feminism. I feel that I am a feminist, but some of my choices don’t match what the Feminists in Charge say is correct. But they, too, often don’t practice what they preach: empowering women to do what feels right for them. Yes, this is a lot to read into the title, but I’m hoping that Crispin’s “Manifesto” will have me saying “Yes!” at every turn. And I hope all the women I know will read it as well and believe that we’re okay. Rant over.

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