Publishers Weekly – Survival Skills: Watchful animals populate this debut story collection from Ryan, blurring the distinctions between themselves and people as they seek comfort among each other. In “Greyhound”, a couple struggles to acclimate their rescue dog, once made to race ten times a night, to the pampered pet life; and in “A Sea Change,” a woman notices her girlfriend become “more fish than human” when the creatures she looks after at the Monterey Bay Aquarium displace their relationship on dry land. Ryan’s diction often adapts to her stories’ environments. Humans don’t make love, they mate; a woman car-wrecked face molts as she transforms into a beautiful stranger. Ryan’s plain-spoken language, punctuated with facts and anecdotes about the natural world, balances daily drudgery with the sublime. When in “Migration” a recently divorced woman seeks the restorative calm of Lake Tahoe, an oddly affectionate goose won’t leave her side. And while her protagonist reads a coffee table book about what animals must do to survive, she cocoons in her remote hideaway. Life’s brutalities—amnesia, coma, and quirks of human nature—are extreme yet familiar in this captivating collection. Ryan controls devastating psychological material with tight prose, quick scene changes, and a scientist’s observant eye. (Apr.)
The Los Angeles Review: With her debut collection Survival Skills, Jean Ryan brings to the short story what Mary Oliver does to poetry. Both writers enrich their work extolling the wonders, as well as warning of the dangers, found in nature; and both intimately align women with the natural world. Using keen observation of the natural world, Ryan reveals how “unnatural environments create unnatural behavior” and underscores “it’s not just people here who have stories, it’s the land.” Each character traverses one emotional precipice after another, like the spider in “The Spider in the Sink,” to “cling, bewildered, to the edge of its world.” Ryan’s stories praise the transformative power of compassion, and reveal how the rescued can become the rescuer, as in “Greyhound.” The grieving couple in “Archaeology After Dark” are like the fossils they excavate; and after a visualized but unrealized infidelity with a bone collector, Doris comes to cherish her husband. Collisions fill these stories, from literal car crashes to the blow of witnessing a beloved’s betrayal, as in “A Sea Change,” where Jenny finds Antonia in the arms of her heart’s desire—not another woman, but an octopus. Even after impact, Ryan’s central characters refuse to relinquish their “hopeful curiosity” for life and find ways in which to “come in out of the cold desert night just to sit, shoulder to shoulder, among their own kind.”
“SURVIVAL SKILLS uses the natural world to amplify its characters’ reflections on their longings, fears and losses.” — Colorado Review.
“With spot-on observations and deep compassion, Jean Ryan writes about loss and longing, grief and love, and about the human ability to go on…This book will bring you closer to the things that are important in life.” — Lori Ostlund, author of THE BIGNESS OF THE WORLD.
“Jean Ryan’s SURVIVAL SKILLS offers a wry look at the ways in which intimate relationships, ambitions, and desires are often foiled and skewed by the natural world.” — Henriette Lazaridis Power, author of THE CLOVER HOUSE.
“Ryan is not only a gifted wordsmith but a skilled anthropologist, creating, analyzing, and pulling apart at the cross section of each character.” — The Summerset Review
“Jean Ryan is a wise and witty voice in contemporary American fiction. The keenly observed stories in Survival Skills shine with frequently, a most welcome portion of humor. This is fiction that matters.” – Mary Kalfatovic, Editor, The Committee Room
“This collection is a treat for anyone who reads but if you’ve been in a reading rut and need a book to shake things up a little, this collection is what the doctor ordered. It will wake you up and get you thinking again.” — Book Chatter
“SURVIVAL SKILLS by Jean Ryan is stunning, absorbing the reader into the lives of her characters — animal and human — and forcing them to contemplate wider questions of what it means to love, change, and grow.” — Savvy Verse and Wit
“The stories were wrapped up neatly enough to satiate my curiosity without leaving me hanging, and I loved each one.” — Luxury Reading
“SURVIVAL SKILLS by Jean Ryan is one of the more unique offerings I have come across in my recent quest to read more short story collections. The collection consists of 13 standalone stories ranging from 6 to 21 pages in length. There is a real clarity and strong sense of purpose about each story, but common to all is Jean Ryan’s refreshing voice and open-minded and unadorned perspective.” — Booklover Book Reviews
“Car accidents, physical traumas, illness, aging and other incursions disrupt the lives of Survival Skills characters, but Ryan never relies on cynicism. She maintains a hopeful, at times humorously toned belief in humanity’s ability to endure difficulties, and in her collection readers might find a prescription to their own maladies.” — Four Ties Lit Review
“SURVIVAL SKILLS is a collection of short stories, and it is one of those quietly beautiful books.” — The Lesbrary
“SURVIVAL SKILLS is a collection of understated, elegant narratives that throw a keen eye on the interconnectedness of humans with the natural world. Jean Ryan holds a magnifying glass to those unexpected moments in which transformation occurs, and the quiet power of these stories will remain with you well after the final page is turned.” — Lambda Literary
“Jean’s stories are thoughtful, with sly, a-ha observations that made me feel that I had the inside track.” — Newbold Ink
“As the title of this collection illustrates, these are indeed stories of survival. Whether it’s the death of loved ones, a breakup, an accident, or even a tornado – the author presents, with hard-to-ignore similarities, how connected and susceptible humans and the natural world’s creatures are. All are required to adjust and adapt – if we are to survive….Survival Skills: Stories affirms the intrinsic value of all living things. Paying closer attention to lives that are not ours is the first step toward changing the world for animals. Each of these stories is a lesson in how to take that step.” — Stephen Lukas, Our Hen House
“Ryan’s prose particularly shines when she’s describing animals – whether beagles, hummingbirds or tattletale parrots – and their relationship to people.” — Melissa Hart, High Country News
Reader reviews of Lost Sister:
“I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The story brought back happy memories of childhood’s favorite books and pastimes. And yet it was topical as well. The vividness of Ms. Ryan’s descriptions made me frequently return to a phrase just to read it again and savor her skilled use of language. I admire Ms. Ryan’s humor, knowledge and talent and hope this novel not only achieves the success it deserves but leads to more stories from this gifted author. This is one of the few books that really captivated me and made me want to read it again.”
“Lost Sister is a tender story told with wonderful insight and compassion. The characters touched me long after I was through reading this novel.”
“I have just finished living though Lorrie Rivers, the main character in Ms. Ryan’s first novel, Lost Sister. I could not put it down. I was captured by the honesty and tenderness with which she presents her characters’ lives. They are people in the throes of human frailty and circumstance going about their day.”
“LOST SISTER is a riveting and insightful novel, an excellent narrative tapestry which so wove me into its essence that I wished it could have continued on – sorry that I would be missing my new friend, Lorrie Rivers, and wishing I knew her more. I’m looking forward to future works from this talented author.”