This week the School Library Journal/LJ crew gobbles up stories of survival, women of affairs, insurrections, and disappearing architecture.
Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, SLJ
I’ve been slowly making my way through Marcia Reiss’s Lost New York (Pavilion, 2011), a gorgeous, photo-studded work that sheds light on various sites throughout New York that have since been abandoned or demolished. Some of my favorite places? The Astor Mansion, the Lunatic Asylum at Roosevelt Island, and the Castle Garden Aquarium (damn you, Robert Moses!).
The book also contains some sizzling salacious details on New York history, such as the 1906 murder of Stanford White (who designed the first Madison Square Garden [MSG]). White was fatally shot by millionaire Henry Thaw at the rooftop theater of MSG. Thaw was jealous that his young wife, Evelyn Nesbit, had had an affair with White when she was a 16-year-old chorus girl five years earlier. Old New York, don’t ever change.
Liz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
Like my colleague Etta (see her blurb below), I’m reading about a survivor heroine—of sorts. Courtney Farrell, the lead character in Pamela Moore’s 1956 debut novel, Chocolates for Breakfast (Perennial: Harper, reprinted in 2013) is world-weary at age 15, drinking daiquiris with her Hollywood actress mother, having affairs with actors and Byronic dilettantes, drinking too much, and running out of control with her friend and former boarding school roommate Janet. The novel does have a lot of strong points; though it’s episodic and meandering it’s also an excellent first effort. However, the author’s backstory is more compelling than her novel, and thanks to Harper for all the extra content—excursuses, let’s call them—that tell us Moore was 18 when Chocolates was published and the name “Courtney” for girls became superpopular after the book was published. Moore seems like a sort of combination of Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, and Françoise Sagan—talented, troubled, reckless, rich, dead by her own hand at age 26. I can picture a movie version of Chocolates, but somehow I think a cinematic treatment of the life and death of its author would be a more watchable, though sadder, film.
Barbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
I really enjoyed Ann Hood’s newest, the forthcoming An Italian Wife (Norton, Sept.) and had touted it at the BEA Shout ‘n’ Share (and in the May 6 WWR column). I remembered that I had put aside her 2013 novel, The Obituary Writer (Norton) for a rainy day. Earlier this week I eagerly retrieved it from my towering ARC stash. The book’s parallel stories of two women’s lives and loves, several eras apart, really works, and effectively keeps you involved.
Vivien Lowe, the title character, is well acquainted with grief. She is still seeking her lover, an older, married man who vanished in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Vivien’s story is counterpointed by Claire’s. Claire is a restless, Kennedy-era, Jackie-mad, married young mother, who now lives in suburban DC. She is deeply affected by the kidnapping and disappearance of a little boy from the neighborhood and then gets caught up in a passionate affair with a (also married) man she meets at a friend’s dinner party. How will these love affairs end? This is a page-turner with some appealing historical detail.
Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, Reviews, LJ
This week I started Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet (Verso) by Linda Herrera. LJ’s reviewer Jim Hahn starred it earlier this year and I’ve had it on my to-be-read shelf for a few months. Herrera begins by explaining the rise of technology in Egypt and how it’s afforded the rise of a robust, homegrown movement of young men and women, first on blogs and now on social media, who began sharing liberal ideas and mobilizing against oppression. In the section I’m currently reading, Herrera critiques America’s attempts to use “public diplomacy” (reaching out to the public, as opposed to official diplomats) to sway these young Arabs from extremism, writing:
This line of reasoning presumes that the “Muslim mainstream” is not capable of finding its own path to moderation and democracy. It neither recognizes nor gives credence to those indigenous voices and social movements that reject the medley of violent extremism, dictatorship, and militarism. By its very nature, this approach to soft power precludes any genuine dialogue with independent local actors in the region and displays indifference to their positions and aspirations.
I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this book goes.
Etta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
The lesson I learned over my two-day staycation: never let your kids have access to your technology. No Kindle. No phone charger to access the Kindle app on my phone. What’s a girl to do? Oh yes, read print. So I turned to a galley copy of Chelsea Cain’s One Kick (S. & S.), which has been on my teetering to-be-read pile for a while. The upshot: many thriller fans will enjoy this work, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. The mystery concerning the rescue of some abducted children is compelling but the central character is one I just couldn’t grow to like. A survivor of child abduction herself, she’s obsessed with self-defense and lines such as (I’m paraphrasing), “She knew 416 ways to kill him with her left hand alone” made me cringe.