Sayers, Superstars, Shinigamis, Slayers, & More | What We’re Reading & Watching

The people of “What We’re Reading & Watching” took some time off from their busy pre-spring (sure, spring’s here on the calendar, but it ain’t on the weather reports!) work schedules to report on their viewing and reading choices. We’re catching up with some idols of our youth, searching for a Sayers-alike, reading manga death notes, stalking an elusive killer, traveling with a 19th-century eccentric, and gravitating toward beauty and opulence this week. Come join us on our travels! 

Mahnaz Dar, Reference &  Professional Reading Editor, LJS
Lately I’ve been revisiting an old favorite: Death Note (Viz), written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. This 12-volume manga series follows a 17-year-old, Light Yagami, who picks up a strange notebook. Anyone whose name is written in the book will die, and Light decides it’s the perfect opportunity to create the perfect world, one free of criminals and evildoers, over which he will eventually reign as a god. The notebook comes from the realm of the shinigami (or death god); a bored shinigami named Ryuk dropped a death note in the world of humans to see what would happen. To put it mildly, chaos ensues, as Light and an eccentric detective known only as L engage in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse.

Death Note is intricate, and I usually emerge from a binge-reading session reeling from all the in-depth plotting. It’s also incredibly immersive—it’s easy to see why this one has been such a cult phenomenon, spawning an anime series, a prose novel, and a recent Netflix special, to name just a few adaptations. 

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
One of the many soundtracks of my youth was the cast album of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, which I’m pretty sure was on the RCA label, because that’s where my stepfather worked as an engineer for years; he brought home many albums for us to enjoy—until the fateful year when he became yet another casualty of the RCA annual Christmas layoff. I was also a huge fan of Alice Cooper in those days, though he wasn’t on the RCA label. So while I was somewhat lukewarm about NBC’s live televised performance of Jesus Christ Superstar starring John Legend, I was interested in seeing Alice Cooper perform as King Herod. Thank you, Youtube! I watched AC taunt-sing to JC (“walk across my swimming pool”) and nothing else from the broadcast, but I would consider watching BVD aka Brandon Victor Dixon steal the show as Judas Iscariot. Back to Youtube I go….

In the reading realm, I devoured Tara Isabella Burton’s debut thriller, Social Creature (Doubleday), after reading a favorable review in LJ. Lots of readers are comparing it to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and L.S. Hilton’s Maestra and Bret Easton Ellis’s early novels—oh and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—but I got more of a Single White Female meets Luckiest Girl Alive vibe, with dollops of Ellis. I totally disliked all the characters, even as I whizzed through the book in a day. I could see a damn fine movie made out of this. The film rights have already been snapped up, so we shall see.

Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, LJ Reviews
This week I’m watching the HLN series Unmasking a Killer, about the search for the Golden State Killer. I enjoy true crime in general, but this case in particular, which I first read about in Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Harper), has gripped me. The Golden State Killer, or GSK, is a serial rapist and murderer responsible for 50 rapes and a dozen murders across California in the 1970s and 1980s. He was never caught. Both the HLN show and its companion podcast feature investigators who have worked on the case throughout the years, as well as victims who speak about the ways they were affected. It’s mind-boggling how brazen GSK was: he would leave precut ligatures in homes prior to attacks (one woman found them while moving a couch cushion; police did a stakeout, but he never showed), enter homes naked from the waist down, and terrorize victims with threatening phone calls. But this case can be solved. Authorities have GSK’s DNA. What they don’t have—yet—is the man it belongs to. The show and podcast are likewise examining how this case impacted future rape investigations and how victims lacked things we now take for granted, such as the 911 telephone system to call for help. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. 

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, LJ
I spent a big chunk of my reading time this month on Jenny Uglow’s newest biography, Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense (Farrar), for an LJ review. Most folks know Edward Lear as the limerick and nonsense rhyme writer, the man who came up with “The Owl and the Pussycat”—which is no mean feat in itself. But he was also an accomplished and prolific painter and lived the mid-19th-century artist/poet lifestyle to the hilt, trekking all over Europe and Asia with his trusty manservant and his paints, writing travelogs, and putting together painting collections to sell, as well as writing and illustrating his books of verse. And ah, for the life of an itinerant artist, traveling the world with my friends and talking about painting, spending extended visits at the estates of my landed friends—marvelous English names, too: Chichester Fortescue, Franklin Lushington—not to mention a prickly friendship with the poet Alfred Tennyson and a young Queen Victoria, who was a painting student of his. Winters in Corfu, Bombay, the Levant; summers in London entertaining the children of various peers…life, or at least that life, was just so different. Uglow does a wonderful job of filling in the details of that rarefied Victorian world while focusing on her subject, the oddball and interesting Mr. Lear: a homosexual, epileptic, depressive workaholic who felt himself to be the perpetual outsider yet had a huge circle of devoted friends and a hugely successful creative life. Immersing myself in that life was an experience, in the best sense, and about as far from the #1 train (where most of that immersion took place) as I could get, happily. 

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I’ve been reading Julie McElwain’s A Twist in Time (Pegasus Crime). It’s Criminal Minds meets Georgette Heyer meets Outlander…our heroine is an FBI agent who has time-traveled back to the English Regency period, where she’s trying to solve a murder, resist a love interest that might tie her to a chauvinistic era, and somehow get back home. On paper it’s a perfect storm of my interests, but in practice I’m finding it doesn’t quite jell.

I’ve also been reading a bunch of British crime classics reissued by Poisoned Pen Press. Sadly, none so far has turned out to be another Sayers—though one, Alan Melville’s Quick Curtain, was blurbed by her (“Blows the solemn structure of the detective novel sky-high”).

 

Ashleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
I just started reading Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles (Freeform) last night. I don’t usually gravitate toward books with beauty, opulence, or royalty as major components (I’m aware this says more about me than it does about the books themselves), but I’ve heard such great buzz, and I deeply respect and admire Clayton’s work as part of #WeNeedDiverseBooks; I just had to check it out! So far, there’s a lot of fruity dessert imagery, which I can thoroughly get behind. Sixteen-year-old Camellia Beauregard is one of six Belles in the mythical kingdom of Orléans. Blessed by the Goddess of Beauty with ancient powers, Belles are young women prized for their ability to physically transform the kingdom’s cursed citizens who are born withered and gray, with red eyes and hair like coarse straw. I can’t quite gauge where the plot is headed (I’m only 29 pages in), but I’m already feeling that root of unease that usually signals a great story’s ahead!

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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: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

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