Spanish Flu, Beethoven, and The Ladies of Grace Adieu | What We’re Reading

Here’s what some of the Library Journal and School Library Journal staffers are reading.

Shelley Diaz, Assistant Book Review Editor, SLJ
Right now, it’s In the Shadow of Blackbird by Cat Winters. It’s a creepy YA novel set during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. Mary Shelley Black (named after Frankenstein’s author) is a 16-year-old burgeoning scientist who scoffs at the popular Spiritualist movement until she starts hearing the voice of her first love after a nearly-fatal lightning strike. Trouble is: her beloved recently perished in the Great War.

Matt Enis, Associate Editor, Technology, LJ
I’m reading The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa’s fictionalized account of the life of Sir Roger Casement, who was knighted for his efforts to expose human rights abuses in colonial Africa and Peru, and then executed for treason after joining the Irish rebellion. Vargas Llosa is a favorite, and I’ve been interested in this period of African history since reading King Leopold’s Ghost a couple of years ago. So far it’s great—definitely recommend.

Mike Kelley, Editor in Chief, LJ
This week, I’m on The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824 by Harvey Sachs. This book explores Beethoven’s last symphonic masterpiece in detail, but it also makes a broad survey of other crucial works or events in the lives of many other great artists in 1824, from Byron’s death to Pushkin’s Boris Godunov to Delacroix’s Massacres at Chios to Stendahl’s Racine and Shakespeare and Heine’s Harz Journey, to name a few. The focal point of 1824 makes for an interesting story that Sachs tells in a personal way. It should appeal to general readers of cultural history.

And perhaps these brief glances at those artists and their states of being at that moment will have helped to remind readers—as they reminded this author—that spiritual and intellectual liberation requires endless internal warfare against everything in ourselves that narrows us down instead of opening us up and that replaces questing with certitude.

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’m reading Chevy Steven’s third Pacific Northwest–set thriller, Always Watching. It’s the story of Dr. Nadine Lavoie, the psychiatrist who treated the protagonists of Stevens’s first two books, her gradually recovered memories of what happened to her when she lived on a commune as a child, and how those events may be connected to a recent patient’s death. I have a feeling that one of the other doctors at the hospital is not quite what he seems, but we shall see…. He could be a bad guy, a potential love interest, or BOTH. (I’m assuming both.)

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
I just finished Their Eyes Were Watching God last week and oof! It hit me hard. I had to scramble to find a new book before I left town for the weekend so I packed Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (an LJ Best Book of 2012 I’m excited to return to), E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, and Saeed Jones’s collection of poems, When the Only Light Is Fire. Billy Lynn was chosen as the primary read, the poetry as the backup read, and Ragtime as the emergency read. (One must always pack at least one emergency read.)

Meredith Schwartz, News Editor, LJ
I’m reading The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke. Entertaining, well-written, occasionally creepy the way that fairy tales used to be before we worried about traumatizing children (though the scariest thing so far has been an exercise in period spelling). Set in the same alternate Regency world with magic as Clarke’s behemoth Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The book has added stronger women to the Norellverse, which in my opinion it could use, and manages to be neither offensive to modern feminist sensibilities nor cloyingly anachronistic. Romance is approached more in the spirit of Austen than Heyer. So far nothing has jumped out to transcend the general mood into one more memorable on the plot or character level.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
The Oprah fans in your library, as well as those interested in hair care, will enjoy You Are Beautiful, a part-memoir, part-how-to by Ken Paves, which I just finished reading. Paves, who did many makeovers on the Oprah Show, offers numerous cheap and easy beauty tips (who knew mashed banana could be used as conditioner?) but what makes his work stand out is its emphasis on dispelling tired myths and his step-by-step description of how he moved from being an assistant in a Detroit salon to being a hairdresser to the stars. I also just started Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. In the novel, the young, aimless Ben Benjamin, who has just finished a crash course in caring for disabled people, faces a patient he didn’t expect: a teenager who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and who is more than a handful. It’s a gritty, quirky readalike for Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors.
Molly McArdle About Molly McArdle

Molly McArdle (, @mollitudo on Twitter) is Assistant Editor, Library Journal Book Review. She also manages the Library Journal tumblr.