Liars, Journalists, Swans, and Dark Defiers | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal/School Library Journal staffers are enjoying YA/ new adult titles, historical fiction and nonfiction, and some online comics.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
Though I’m still finishing up Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Little, Brown), that’s not the primary book that’s kept my attention this week. What book has that honor? That’s the beauty of it—it isn’t a book at all! I’m reading Girls with Slingshots, a (mostly) black-and-white web comic about Hazel, a twentysomething navigating relationships, sexuality, and job issues together with her best friend, Jamie, and her anthropomorphic cactus, McPedro (did I mention it’s a bit off the wall?). I’m on my 811th comic, and it’s officially my new favorite web comic (sorry, Questionable Content!).

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
H.L. Mencken is stalking me. Well, at least he’s appearing in two books I’m reading right now. He has a near-walk-on part in Anita Reynolds’s lively memoir, American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World (Harvard Univ.) when she tries to wangle an invitation for him to attend a dance in Washington, DC, “one of the social events of the season,” according to the author:

…so I passed along his request to my hostess, Muriel Milton. She was absolutely appalled. “Why, we don’t have white men at our parties. We don’t have white people at all. But if we did, they would certainly have to be our social equals, and no journalist would ever fit in our parties. Unless you know white people in the diplomatic corps, don’t ask to invite them.” Thoroughly rebuked, I apologized to Mencken and told him the guest list was filled.

The lowly journalist also makes many appearances in Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner) as well, calling William Jennings Bryan, temperance advocate and orator, “the Fundamentalist Pope”; discussing Jack London’s literary output (“alcohol made him”) with Upton Sinclair; selling his Studebaker and investing the proceeds in alcohol right before the 18th Amendment was passed; suffering a “rapid depletion” of his stock after a “devastating visit” from Sinclair Lewis; and writing to his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was living in Paris at the time: “Baltimore is now knee-deep in excellent beer. I begin to believe in prayer.” Thank you, Mr. Okrent, for your book’s excellent index. I believe I’ll have a quaff of Mencken next, does anybody have a good bio suggestion?

Barbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
I am enjoying E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (Delacorte ). Whether you want to consider this a YA, a YA crossover, or a new adult book—few will be able to put this one down. Lockhart’s newest is hypnotic and arresting stuff. It is told from the point of view of a young woman who may be YA’s most unreliable narrator, Cadence Sinclair Eastman. To get a flavor of the book’s cadence (pun intended) you can watch Lockhart read the books first few pages on YouTube here.
Here is a somewhat cannibalized except from Chapter 2. Dear reader please know that this amazing and astonishing book, We Were Liars, is best read all of a piece. Preferably in one sitting. Plan on it.

That June, summer fifteen, Dad announced he was leaving and departed two days later. He told my mother he wasn’t a Sinclair, and couldn’t try to be one, any longer…He had hired moving vans already. He’d rented a house, too. My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes (he was leaving Mummy with only the Saab), and started the engine.
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
Then from my eyes,
my ears,
my mouth.
It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch…

Yup. Lockhart is one darn fine writer. Her The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion), was both a Printz Award Honor Book and a finalist for the National Book Award—and full disclosure, Emily is my upstairs neighbor and occasional cat sitter (for my Sammy and Deano).

Margaret Heilbrun, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
I swiped an extra galley of The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope), a novel that comes out from Riverhead next February. However, what with reviewing two books for the January issue of LJ, I am still lurking near the start of Schaffert’s story, which takes place during the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair in Nebraska. The opening pages, before the core of the novel, in flashback, begins, is wonderful! More anon!

Chelsey Philpot, Associate Editor, Book Reviews, SLJ
I have begun to dive into my “best fiction of the year” reading. I just finished Edwidge Danticat’s stunning Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf) and am now committed to getting my hands on everything she has ever written. Danticat’s descriptions are transporting and her use of language haunting.

Meredith Schwartz, Editor, News & Features, LJ
I am reading Defy the Dark (HarperTeen), a YA anthology ed. by Saundra Mitchell. At about the two thirds point, it is interesting primarily because of the genre mix…some things I would call horror, some romance, some sf/paranormal, some realistic fiction. It includes a story by a Figment contest winner (Kate Espey’s “The Sunflower Murders”) which is the darkest in the figurative sense, as well as the most realistically unresolved. Here’s the website for the anthology:


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