Last Pages of 2013 | What We’re Reading

Happy New Year—almost! The Library Journal/School Library Journal staffers are ringing out the old by perusing Christmas presents, scaring themselves silly, emulating the French, getting on board with power popsters, checking out how the other half lives, munching on millipedes, and watching 1913 through the lens of time.

valentineMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, School Library Journal
Well, after a brief hiatus, I’m back to reading Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life (Ecco). Where is Lennon, our working-class hero? Beatlemania is officially happening, and the boys have just touched down at JFK. As they exit the plane to adoring crowds, behind them is music producer (and later, convicted murderer) Phil Spector.

Spector was returning to America, after watching the Ronettes on a British tour with the Rolling Stones….Spector then brought the Beatles and Ronettes together at a party given by promotion man Tony Hall. “My girls,” as the producer jealously called them, were two sisters, Ronnie and Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley, all three stunning stick insects with piled-up hair and Cleopatra eyes. John and an equally besotted George lost no time in asking the trio to join the flight to New York. Spector, however, insisted that his girls should return home on an earlier plane, while only he traveled with the Beatles. Already legendarily neurotic, he believed that no aircraft carrying such a lucky quartet could possibly crash.

Delving into Beatlemania provided a nice transition for my latest fiction read, Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Free Pr.). Narrated by an 11-year-old Justin Bieber–esque pop singer named Jonny Valentine, the book is both a heartfelt, even heartbreaking tale of a young boy shakily making sense of the bizarre world that surrounds him and a sharp, mordantly funny examination of celebrity culture.

Shelley Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews, SLJ
Probably one of my favorite gifts this year, Samantha Hahn’s Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines (Chronicle) was given to me by my sister. It is absolutely gorgeous, and has inspired me to read some new titles. I’m still deciding which is my favorite spread; it changes each time I open this book.

knownFrancine Fialkoff, Library Consultant/Editor, Library Journal
Thanks to LJ fiction editor Willy Williams, who gave me the ARC, I just started You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Grand Central), publishing in March. So far, it seems a grabber. It’s got all the trappings of the moneyed Upper East Side: the over-rich titans of industry, the Dalton-like private school, the somewhat normal family—she’s a therapist with a book of the same title about to come out, he’s a pediatric oncologist, they have a normal-seeming bright son, age 12—but things are just about to fall apart. And as the blurb on the back cover says, she “should have known.” By the way, the author also wrote Admission, which was made into a sweet/funny movie about a college admissions counselor starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd.



juliaLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
While browsing the LJ book room shelves, I found a cute little book called Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life (Skirt!) by Karen Karbo, and just like that, I’ve become a card-carrying member of the cult of Julia. Karbo ain’t bad either. The author of several jauntily titled books (The Gospel According to Coco Chanel; How to Hepburn; and How Georgia Became O’Keeffe ) spins through la Child’s life, from her California childhood to her years in Paris, and her vibrant marriage to Paul Child, culling life lessons from her experiences for us mere mortals. Karbo’s modern-day commentary is delightful, her footnotes are a hoot, and her subject is a treasure. But I bet most of you Julia cultists out there already knew that!

longbournMargaret Heilbrun, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
I seem to have abandoned Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola (Riverhead) for now, as per my previous posting—after a wonderful opening scene, the novel itself gets under way via flashback, but I was longing to return to the two women who appear in Schaffert’s opening scene. The novel’s progress at the Omaha World’s Fair of 1898 is slow, weighted down, I think, by the author’s intent to show readers just how much he researched the fair for his book. It’s always a challenge: how to wear one’s learning lightly in establishing a novel’s milieu. But I will return to the book because I’m still intrigued. In the meantime? Well, the holidays intervened and I wanted to sink into something else…and I decided that what I needed was Jo Baker’s Longbourn (Knopf) her “downstairs” novel matched to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with a 150,000–copy first printing! I’m loving it. It has a light touch in its references to Austen’s story, emblematic of the very manner in which her characters themselves would not be prone to pay great attentions to their servants. It’s looking like a downstairs romance is on its way, but I’m hoping it at least runs into some minor difficulties. I also think I’ve guessed the backstory for the footman. But if Baker doesn’t go in for lots of subterfuge, who cares? She moves among the servants, their activities, their yearnings, and their environments with wonderful descriptive ease. It’s a lovely book to carry me through to the New Year!

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’ve been reading Robin Wasserman’s Kansas-set YA horror story, The Waking Dark (Knopf), but only in short stints, since I get spooked by its early-Stephen-King-level creep factor. In addition, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy of my friend Rachael Herron’s March release, Pack Up the Moon (NAL), in which an artist who is grieving the loss of her nine-year-old son unexpectedly meets the daughter she gave up for adoption 22 years earlier. I love Rachael’s voice regardless of the subject matter, so I’m really looking forward to digging into this one.

monsterKiera Parrott, Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I just started The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean (telt by hisself) by David Almond (Candlewick). It is strange and sad and beautiful. Written in a grammatically incorrect style in which spellings are approximations, it’s the story of a little boy, Billy Dean, who is locked in a tiny room, experiencing the world through his own fantasies and the irregular comings and goings of his “mam” and dad. Almond is the award-winning author of Skellig. I’m afraid for Billy. Why is he locked away? Will he emerge from his room? What kind of world will greet him when he does?

Meredith Schwartz, Editor, News & Features, LJ
I am reading one of my Christmas presents: The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. (Hannah) Glasse (Applewood). It is a facsimile of the 1805 edition. “Hysterical Water” is my favorite recipe so far. But I’m not sure where I’m going to find the quarter pound of dried millipedes it calls for.

bebeEtta Thornton-Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
Yesterday I braved the downpours to visit the Queens Central Library in Jamaica. If you are in New York it’s worth a visit to see the gorgeous, fairly new renovation of the library’s children’s room, which houses a really rich collection and is bright and airy. While my daughter was fact-finding about Algonquin foods, I wandered into the adult area and checked out their “Hot Reads,” one of which was Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (Penguin). So far, I’ve learned that French parents leave children much more to their own devices. The opening also describes how French toddlers sit happily in restaurants and eat adult foods; I’m hoping to get to the how-to portion that will transform my restaurant experiences forthwith.

1913Wilda Williams, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
As 2013 winds to a close, I am reading a fascinating biography of another watershed year. Florian Illies’s 1913: The Year Before the Storm (Melville House) takes us month by month through the cultural, social, and political events and personalities that would shape the 20th century. At the Armory Show in New York, Picasso and Matisse drop on the American art scene like a bomb. In a wintery Vienna, Stalin ponders the question of nationality while Hitler paints watercolors, and Tito test-drives automobiles. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand impatiently waits to ascend the Austrian-Hungarian throne, and Sigmund Freud breaks with his pupil Carl Jung. Never has a history book been so enjoyable and page-turning as this original narrative.

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