Bad Boys, Venomous Murder, and Irish Crime | What We’re Reading

This week, the bookworms at Library Journal are reading about boys being iconoclastic (or just naughty) murder by snake, and police procedures in Ireland.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
I’m currently reading Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life (Ecco). I haven’t gotten too far; Lennon, as a teen, is still discovering the music that would change his life—Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and others—and Paul McCartney is only hovering on the periphery. Still, reading about Lennon’s childhood is most edifying. The iconoclastic Beatle was clearly a hellraiser from early on, who lived to defy authority. Case in point:

He became a dedicated wanker, undeterred by any fear of heavenly retribution and, as always, in company with his arch-crony, Pete Shotton. It was a further symbol of their closeness, without any suggestion of the homoerotic; they wanked together as an act of Shennon-Lotton rebellion and defiance and mutual showing off. John proved to have a particular aptitude and near-inexhaustible stamina. Once, he accepted Pete’s challenge to do it ten times in a single day, the price being unlimited access to the Shotton family’s television set. He failed to reach this target, but only by one go.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ
I am also reading about a creative (and self-destructive) iconoclast, this one fictional: Arthur Morel, the subject of The Morels by Christopher Hacker (Soho). Arthur might just be a genius, a musical one as well as a brilliant novelist, but he routinely pushes the boundaries of taste and culture. He finishes off his music-school career with an outrageous, unspeakable onstage act; his novel’s subject matter rips his happy nuclear family apart. The novel is narrated by a former music school mate named Chris (hmmm). He’s my favorite type of narrator: unreliable.
Days before the unspeakable onstage act, Chris and Arthur are discussing art, performance, and public behavior in the concert hall. Arthur, future iconoclast, is of the opinion that politeness is “the death of art.” He craves a genuine, “real” response, like that of the audience at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. He tells Chris:

May 1913. Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Stravinsky’s savage rhythms and Nijinsky’s flat-footed rendition of the pagan rites of rural Russia provoke catcalls from the audience. Fellow composer in attendance Camille Saint-Saëns storms out. Supporters shout for the catcallers to sit down, and the catcallers tell the supporters to shut the hell up, and soon enough a punch is thrown, followed by an aisle brawl. The scene, astonishingly, degenerates into a full-scale riot, Stravinsky slips out the back door just as the Paris police are arriving to restore order.
That’s real, Arthur said. That’s honest. A standing ovation from
that crowd would be something to be proud of. But these days, a standing ovation is meaningless. It’s gotten so an ovation is expected of any performance that doesn’t go horribly awry. How absurd is that?

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
It’s always a pleasure to discover that a beloved author’s backlist is just as good (or possibly even better!) than her current releases. I’ve been a huge fan of British crime writer S.J. Bolton’s “Lacey Flint” series for a while now, but just got around to picking up one of her previous stand-alone novels this week. Awakening (Minotaur: St. Martin’s) is the story of Clara, a wildlife vet in rural Dorset whose childhood disfigurement has left her wanting to avoid people as much as possible. But when her village is beset by poisonous snake attacks (and also, maybe there are ghosts?), she doesn’t really have a choice anymore. It’s genuinely gripping and creepy and even though I still have half of the book left to read, I’m already worried about the fact that I’m going to be done with it someday.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’m starting my first Irish-language novel, Anna Heussaff’s Buille Marfach, the English translation A Deadly Blow will be published by Severn House in the spring. It’s a debut novel that’s intended as the first in a series.

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