KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Jean Zimmerman

Which one of us hasn't imagined putting down on paper a narrative of our ancestors? It's a go-to premise for almost all newbie novelists, who are naturally certain their own family histories will prove enthralling to others. Deb Spera, a successful television producer, has deep roots in the very real town of Branchville, S.C., and draws on those roots in her first work of fiction, Call Your Daughter Home.

Never take rides from strangers, counsel the wise elders. By this time, though, author Elizabeth Gilbert is no stranger, but a friend eager to take readers along on one joyous ride after another — fiction, memoirs, whatever moves her. City of Girls, Gilbert's latest novel, has the faint whiff of the expected, beginning with the almost obligatory use of the word "girls" in a title, a trend that shows no sign of abating. What's next? The Girlish Girls of a Girl's Girlhood?

The Farm might serve only as an echo-chamber treatment of The Handmaid's Tale, were it not for author Joanne Ramos's deft way of creating characters. She peoples her book with figures who are appealingly engaging — or, at times, engagingly repellent.

So was that real?

I hear variations on this theme all the time from readers. Titrating fact and fantasy can give a story a mysterious energy. Writers fetch up those details that sate the senses, allowing us to touch and taste, hear and feel how things were once upon a time. A woman steps out in Gilded Age New York City. Would she wear muslin or silk, petticoats or a hoop of whale baleen? Short kid gloves or long satin ones? How deep is her decolletage? All the particulars, please!