After the Fourth | What We’re Reading

The LJ/School Library Journal crew enjoyed a long weekend of holiday reading about dysfunctional family members, unnatural creatures, early 20th-century New Yorkers, a hero who can’t say no, Texas dynasties, and tasty Narnian treats.

Shriver.KevinMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
This weekend I finished two books by a wonderful author: Lionel Shriver. I reread We Need To Talk About Kevin (HarperCollins), a gripping story about a woman whose teenage son orchestrates a school killing, as she looks back and muses on how they reached this point. It’s a wonderful—and dark—examination of parenthood. I also read Shriver’s Big Brother (HarperCollins), a darkly funny novel about a woman whose once suave and debonair brother comes to stay with her—hundreds of pounds overweight. Great reading by a sharp and insightful writer.

LeeChildPersonalLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
What lovely luxury: three days off to read and relax! My long weekend was filled with fun and cookouts and fireworks and a trip to the beach, but also with reading, lovely reading. I finished Maureen Corrigan’s So We Read On (Little, Brown) and immediately felt bereft—this was a book I truly wanted to read on and on. The author sets just the right confiding and wise tone for this comprehensive (but never dry) discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Then it was off on an international adventure in Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel (the 19th, coming out in September) Personal (Delacorte). Reacher owes a former army colleague a favor, so he agrees to travel to Paris in pursuit of a sniper who has taken a wildly long shot at France’s president. You’d think Reacher would just say no to these old army companions when they track him down and ask him to help! Of course, if he said no to this, there’d be no 19th Reacher novel, so it’s all to the good.

Narnia.CookbookBarbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
After the fun of the American Library Association conference in Vegas, I enjoyed spending some quality time in the kitchen over the glorious Fourth. I even made steamed fresh fava beans from my CSA box! I added them to my red potato salad dijonnaise. Easy! I love to read cookbooks for fun. I dipped into a terrific themed cookbook from Sourcebooks. After deciding that the oven was off limits I began to page through Dinah Bucholz’s The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook: From Turkish Delight to Gooseberry Fool —Over 150 Recipes Inspired By the Chronicles of Narnia looking for something that required no heat whatsoever!
Here’s Bucholz’s simple “receipt” for lemon ices. Suggested as a lovely cool ending from the “First Meal Back in the Overworld” (referencing C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, chapter 16).

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon extract, optional*
Water as needed

  1. Combine the lemon juice, sugar and (optional) lemon extract in a 2-cup measuring cup. Fill the rest of the way to the 2-cup line with water, and mix well.
  2. Fill an ice cube tray with the lemon mixture, and freeze until firm. Crush 3 to 4 ice cubes at a time in a blender per serving. Scrape into bowls and serve at once.

*I am thinking of trying this with lemon bitters instead (very Brooklyn hipster) or with limoncello (old school and only for grown-up Narnians).
Hmmm…Wonder how it would taste if I floated those lemon Ice cubes in some cold limoncello?

Pintoff.CurtainTrev Jones, Editor-at-Large, SLJ
Sadly, I’ve finished Christopher Fowler’s  “Peculiar Crime Unit” series and I really miss those two old detectives and watching how their minds operate. However, I’m really into Stefanie Pintoff’s A Curtain Falls (Minotaur: St. Martin’s). It’s such fun to travel back to early 1900s New York City and the murder of two actresses (so far) and see how the detectives work with such limited resources. I can’t wait to go back and get Pintoff’s earlier books.
I’m also loving Susan Jane Gilman’s The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street (Grand Central). It’s another trip back to old New York starting in 1913 and continuing up to the 1970s as far as I can tell (I’m only halfway through and I have to read fast—it’s long and It’s a two-week checkout book that can’t be renewed). What an amazing main character. Lil is run over by an ice cream cart at age six, abandoned by her family, raised by the cart’s owner, and goes on to make a fortune because of her cunning business sense and guts. She’s telling the story to her “darlings,” and her voice is amazing.


mcGarrity.backlandsStephanie Sendaula, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
Thanks to my favorite history professor, Arthur Schmidt, I became interested in the history of Mexico, especially during the time when Texas was an independent sovereign nation (remember that?) and the Mexican Empire encompassed parts of present-day United States.
Needless to say, I was excited to unexpectedly discover Michael McGarrity’s Hard Country (Dutton) a few years ago. The first in a trilogy, Hard Country details a multigenerational saga—starring a person you love to hate, Patrick—during the pioneering years (1875–1918) of the American Southwest. The story reads like a soap opera and you’re never entirely sure if you should love or hate any given character.
The sequel, Backlands (Dutton), was released in May and recounts the years from 1918 through World War II. This time, the narrative focuses on Matthew, Patrick’s slightly less morally reprehensible son, as he tries (with varying success) to be the complete antithesis of his dad.
I love McGarrity’s writing because he truly paints a picture; you feel as if you are sitting right next to the characters as you read. And I enjoy the fact that each and every character is flawed because it makes them realistic and relatable.

GaimanUnnatural.CreaturesAshleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
Since my Neil Gaiman affection has apparently been made public and assumed an obsession (perhaps not incorrectly), one of my coworkers kindly handed me Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins), a collection of stories concerning creatures who are “either unlikely, impossible, or do not exist at all.” I’m halfway through the book and have steadfastly decided that I don’t want it to end, ever. Inside are tales of every beast (un)imaginable), from griffins to werewolves to anarchist bees to eerily sentient black ink spots. Gaiman prefaces each story with a wonderfully wry tidbit, and he paints a picture in his introduction of what he deems the incredibly important and elusive Museum of Unnatural History:

I wished I could visit a Museum of Unnatural History, but, even so, I was glad there wasn’t one. Werewolves were wonderful because they could be anything, I knew. If someone actually caught a werewolf, or a dragon, or if they tamed a manticore or stabled a unicorn, put them in bottles, dissected them, then they could only be one thing, and they would no longer live in the shadowy places between the things I knew and the world of the impossible, which was, I was certain, the only place that mattered.


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