Remembrances, Rockers, Thrill Rides | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal/School Library Journal editors remember friends and fun times and savor noir and semisupernatural suspense stories.

jack_mccarthy2_DetailIan Chant, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
When I was in college in Bellingham, WA, I was lucky enough to attend a consistently excellent open mic poetry night. Over the years, the evening featured a rotating cast of hundreds, including students, locals, touring poets and visitors just passing through, filling whatever coffee shop was hosting it. That venue introduced me to a lot of extremely talented performers and a couple very dear friends over the years. Jack McCarthy was both. Jack was an award-winning slam poet who came late to his craft, and remains one of the finest performers I’ve ever seen take a stage. A born storyteller of boundless humor and quiet grace, Jack could hold a room without ever looking like he was trying. He was also one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever met, and was an inspiration and mentor to a lot of aspiring writers who passed through those café doors, myself included. Jack passed away a year ago this month, and I’ve found myself revisiting his work once again, only to have my breath taken away anew. I also may have had to excuse myself from a room or two with something in my eye. If you can get your hands on a copy of one of his collections, like Say Goodnight, Grace Notes from EM Press, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you can’t, we’re lucky enough to have some of his work preserved for posterity, and I’d direct you to this performance as a reason that I wish someone had brought a camcorder to more of those many open mics. So it goes.

Alex imageLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
I simply cannot resist sharing more from my reading pick of last week, Holly George-Warren’s A Man Called Destruction (Viking), a thoroughly excellent and excellently thorough biography of alterna-rock icon Alex Chilton. After a stint as lead singer in the Box Tops, our antihero threw off the traces of pop stardom and left Memphis for Greenwich Village to make the scene (in 1970). I nearly cried when I read about the rents he and his friends paid for spaces in the area near LJ’s offices. I sighed when I read about the music gigs he heard and saw:

Alex gorged himself on New York’s smorgasbord of musical delights. That summer, for example, at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, it cost $1 or $2 to see Little Richard and the Four Tops, while the Pop Festival at Randall’s Island presented Delaney and Bonnie, Van Morrison, and Sly and the Family Stone. Alex caught the masterful country-folk guitarist Doc Watson at a tiny performance space in the Village. He also saw the Velvet Underground, in their last performances with Lou Reed, at Max’s Kansas City, “held over for the entire summer, Wednesday through Sunday, at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” according to advertisements in The Village Voice.

That’s just a sampling of the acts he saw. Here’s Chilton on the “proto-glam” scene:

“Todd Rundgren had made his first solo album [Runt], around then and I was a big fan of that album,” he said. “That one just knocked me out. And he was all around the neighborhood. There was a glam rock bar on Bleecker in those days called Nobody’s. It was proto-glam. I remember sitting in there one night and seeing Todd come in the door and being very impressed. ‘Who’s that chick with him?’ ‘That’s Patti Smith.’ And nobody knew who Patti Smith was.”

BoltonStephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’ve been enjoying one of Sharon Bolton’s backlist titles, Blood Harvest, (Minotaur: St. Martin’s) which she published as S.J. Bolton. I borrowed the ebook from the NYPL and am not particularly enjoying the experience of reading it on my phone (it wasn’t offered in the Kindle format) via 3M’s glitchy app, which freezes at least a couple of times per reading session and tends to forget my place in the text when I fire it back up. But I persevere because Bolton’s novel is terrific. Her stand-alone works, like this one, tend to be set in rural England with female protagonists who are disabled or disfigured somehow and have plots that hinge in some way on villagers’ adherence to preChristian traditions. There’s generally a moment when I’m reading one of her stand-alones where I say oh, how interesting: I thought this was a straight crime novel, but I guess it’s actually a horror story, but by the time everything’s wrapped up, there’s a perfectly plausible, all-too-human explanation for any otherworldly monkey business. In this work, the Fletcher family has moved into the small village of Heptenclough and built the first new home there in decades—directly next to the old graveyard. The Fletcher children see a deformed, ghostly figure lurking in the trees and watching them, but no adults ever do. There’s an earthy new vicar, a creepy family who owns almost all the land in town, dead children turning up in the wrong graves, secret ways into and out of the ancient church (and the crypt in the basement!), straw figures that move when you’re not looking, and a kind but brittle psychiatrist whose nerve damage subjects her to nearly constant pain. On my commute this morning I learned that one of the Fletcher children (four-year-old Joe) had been kidnapped, so I’m currently watching the clock until I can get back in and find out what happened to him. (He’s going to be fine, right? He’s gotta be fine.)

OppelKiera Parrott, Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I am completely enraptured by The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, which is coming out in April from Simon & Schuster for Young Readers. Will Everett’s father is an engineer on The Boundless, the fastest, largest, most magnificent train ever built. All his life Will has longed for real adventure. Now that he’s traversing the country on the behemoth stream train, he’s about to get his wish. Villainous thieves, terrifying Sasquatches, and an alluring escape artist are just a few of the characters Will encounters on The Boundless. To say this middle grade tale is fast paced doesn’t do it justice. It will have readers wide-eyed, furiously scanning the pages with lip-biting tension. Hop on board, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Layout 1Etta Thornton-Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’m reading The Dark Winter by David Mark (Blue Rider). It’s a police procedural set in Scotland starring Detective Constable Aector McAvoy, a character who’s reminding me of some old friends: Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti and Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache. So far I’m enjoying both the setting and the uncertainty surrounding the main character: something happened in the past that’s making him tiptoe around the brass at work, but I can tell the buttoned-up behavior can last only so long.


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