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Lurid Epistles and a Doubtful Diary

RusticationCharles Palliser, in Rustication, unravels a late 19th century mystery through the uneasy journal entries penned by Richard Shenstone, a 17-year-old opium addict who struggles daily with carnal appetites. Richard, after an abrupt suspension from college, seeks out residency in the drearily neglected English mansion where his mother and older sister reside after the death of their debt-ridden father. However, to much surprise, his early homecoming is unpleasantly received. Not only does he feel unwelcomed, he is refused any information regarding the sudden death in the family or their lack of funds.

 

Coinciding with his arrival, livestock vivisection begins and vulgar letters are sent to several neighbors which accuse, damn and threaten their recipients. Richard soon crosses paths with peculiar characters that become cagier with every encounter, from vicious socialites to a brutish dogfighter. At the center of much gossip is an earl’s nephew who is both an eligible bachelor and next in line to receive his uncle’s fortune.

 

Alone in his attempts to make sense of the town’s secrets, Richard feverishly recounts his daily thoughts and conversations. However, his fickle opiate love affair interrupts his stream of recollections. As the crimes increase and worsen, he finds himself as the prime suspect and is determined to discover the identity of the true murderer.

 

Readers will recognize this marshy bleak town from Palliser’s other Victorian novel, The Quincunx, but will find themselves intrigued as the jarring plot peels away like sour onionskin.

Sarah Jane

 
 

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

posted by:
November 29, 2013 - 6:00am

Fairy Tales from the Brothers GrimmThe Grimm ConclusionFairy Tale ComicsClassic fairy tales are enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to a number of imaginative retellings, both in print and on screen. Adults and children alike will want to read the original stories in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, first published in 1823, and reissued in a brand new collection. This volume includes detailed etchings of the period by noted English caricaturist George Cruikshank, supplemented by a half dozen color illustrations by popular artists like Quentin Blake and Helen Oxenbury. The German tales, handed down through oral tradition, were published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who called them “House Stories.” They were meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone in the house, not just children. This collection contains 55 stories, from the familiar “Ashputtel” (German for Cinderella) to the lesser known “Faithful John,” many of which contain creepy or unsettling elements—these are not the happily ever after Disney versions.

 

Author Adam Gidwitz begins The Grimm Conclusion, the third book in his popular series of retellings, by noting “once upon a time, fairy tales were grim.” He further states that the versions of the stories that most people know are “incredibly, mind-numbingly, want-to-hit-yourself-in-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-ingly boring.” The narrator of this novel follows Grimm characters Jorinda and Joringel as they become participants in other Grimm stories. Infused with a dark sense of humor, Gidwitz’s popular novels embrace the blood, gore and general horror of the original tales. As a former school teacher (and Baltimore native), Gidwitz knows how to enthrall his audience.

 

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy presents a plethora of stories from various sources Grimm and beyond. Cartoonists represented include a veritable who’s who, some new to children’s storytelling. Each story is rendered in full color comic panels. Perennial favorite Raina Telgemeier (known for the graphic memoir Smile) takes on Rapunzel, while Gilbert Hernandez (of Love and Rockets fame) shows us his version of Snow White. Fairy Tale Comics is a visual smorgasbord for the imagination of readers of all ages.

Paula G.

 
 

Poetry and Daydreams

Poetry and Daydreams

posted by:
November 27, 2013 - 6:00am

Words with WingsAs Gabby tells it, she was named after the angel Gabriel. Yet, her mother cannot seem to understand her imaginary world. In Gabby’s words: “Mom names me for a/creature with wings, then wonders/ what makes my thoughts fly.” Nikki Grimes has created a very memorable young girl in Words with Wings. We come to know Gabby through a series of poems. Similar to author Karen Hesse in style, Grimes manages to tell a good story that is lyrical and a quick read to boot.

 

Gabby faces many issues that modern children can relate to: divorcing parents, moving to a new home, starting over at a new school and trying to make friends. Her inability to fit in is due to what her mother and teachers call “daydreaming.” However, her imagination allows Gabby to escape the sadder parts of her life. The book may be short at just over 80 pages, but the scope of what Grimes is able to communicate in so short a space is remarkable.

 

Additionally, students who are studying poetry will find that a variety of types of poems are used to tell Gabby’s story. From haikus to longer free verse stanzas, the book provides examples of poems that could stand alone for their expressive language and imagery, but put together, they tell a compelling tale.

Regina

 
 

Know Your Own Happiness

Know Your Own Happiness

posted by:
November 26, 2013 - 6:00am

Sense and SensibilityIt is a truth universally acknowledged that the legions of Jane Austen fans are devoted to the woman and protective of her literary canon. The Austen Project is treading into this revered territory with the unveiling of a major new series of six authors reimagining all six of Austen’s major works. The project launches with Joanna Trollope, often favorably compared with Austen, and her retelling of Austen’s first published work, Sense and Sensibility.

 

Trollope presents the Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, who, along with their mother, are all coping with grief and a dramatic reversal of fortunes following the death of their father. They have been removed from the family estate by the nefarious schemes of their brother’s wife, Fanny. A relative offers a small home on his estate, but they still must adjust to life with no money, no inheritance and no beloved father. As they slowly come to terms with their new situation, the two elder girls embark on relationships. Sensible Elinor is enamored with Edward, Fanny’s brother, who may be playing the field. Beautiful Marianne falls for local hottie and bad boy John Willoughby. While the storylines remain the same, Trollope successfully uses modern accoutrements to give weight to the girls’ struggles. Tidbits of gossip are texted and scandals are revealed via viral videos adding contemporary realism to this timeless coming-of-age story. Another universal truth – when it comes to money and love, some things never change. This comedy of manners will appeal to Trollope fans, Austen devotees and romance readers.

 

Look for future titles in this exciting series to include Val McDermid’s reworking of Northanger Abbey  and Curtis Sittenfeld’s take on Pride and Prejudice, both scheduled for publication in 2014. Learn more about the Austen Project here.

Maureen

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The Curse of the 27 Club

Cover art for 27During an interview following Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, his mother remarked, "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club." Journalists began referring to “the curse of the 27 Club” when writing about the surprisingly large group of musicians whose lives were all cut tragically short when they were 27 years old. Howard Sounes explores this sad coincidence in 27: A History of the 27 Club Through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

 

While Sounes lists 50 musicians who died at age 27, he examines the facts surrounding the lives and deaths of the six most iconic in his book. He calls the idea of the 27 Club a media construct and maintains that their deaths at the same age are merely a coincidence. In reality, the common factors in their lives were difficult childhoods, addiction, personality disorders, self-destructive behavior and a fast rise to fame during their early 20s. Given these circumstances, Sounes argues that the fact that each died at such a young age was not surprising. This book is an antidote to the media hype and Internet mythology surrounding the 27 Club. The author brings a measured examination of these stars’ lives and tragic deaths.

 

Sounes recently recounted the events of the final hours of some of these musicians’ lives in this Rolling Stone feature.

Beth

 
 

Tragedy Remembered

Tragedy Remembered

posted by:
November 22, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for End of DaysCover art for Dallas 1963Cover art for ParklandFifty years ago the country was rocked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His life and tragic death remain a cultural touchstone, and today's anniversary has resulted in a proliferation of published titles on the subject. Three of these new entries shed light on the man, the assassination and his enduring legacy.

 

Award-winning author James Swanson thoroughly documents the day Kennedy was killed in End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. From the Kennedys’ Texas train trip, to the shooting in Dealey Plaza, to the aftermath awash with confusion, Swanson does not miss a detail. The narrative unfolds hour-by-hour, and the reader is immediately caught up in this riveting account which defines all of the major players, from Jack and Jackie to Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The research is remarkable, and the accompanying photographs add heft to this absorbing and important account.

 

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis offers a different take on the assassination by focusing on the city which will become inextricably linked with President Kennedy. In a fascinating study, they describe the sociological and political forces which collided to create a tinderbox of activism, along with the colorful characters who stirred the political pot. Included are profiles of oil baron H. L. Hunt, Dallas Morning News publisher Ted Dealey and provocative congressman Bruce Alger.

 

Parkland by Vincent Bugliosi is a companion to the film of the same name produced by Tom Hanks, released earlier this fall and now available on DVD. Parkland focuses on the aftermath of the assassination by following key players in the hours and days following the shooting. The group of individuals includes the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, the chief of the Dallas Secret Service and Abraham Zapruder, the cameraman who captured perhaps the most examined footage in history. Bugliosi, also the author of Helter Skelter, successfully delivers a richly detailed narrative of this circle of men and women involved in the historic tragedy of November 22, 1963.

Maureen

 
 

Without a Trace

Cover art for The SnatchabookCover art for Daisy Gets LostMissing books and a missing dog are the focus of two fabulous new picture books.

 

What is happening to all of the stories in Burrow Down? In The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, a mysterious creature called the Snatchabook has come to town. This adorable, sad little flying animal has no one to read to him at bedtime. His solution? Steal the books to read by himself. He mends his ways after Eliza the bunny catches him and all of the little animal creatures of Burrow Down let the Snatchabook listen to their bedtime stories. Told in a catchy rhyme with bright colorful illustrations, this celebration of the bedtime story is a true delight and is itself a perfect read-aloud for bedtime.

 

In Daisy Gets Lost by Chris Raschka, Daisy the dog is playing fetch when she is distracted by a squirrel. After a fun game of chase with said squirrel, she looks up and realizes she is lost! Raschka’s amazing watercolor illustrations display the worry and fear in both Daisy and her girl. He perfectly captures their complete joy when, after frantically searching for each other, they are finally reunited. Even the squirrel seems content at the end. Daisy was first introduced to readers in A Ball for Daisy, for which Raschka won the Caldecott Medal. Daisy Gets Lost is a worthy sequel and a treat on its own.

Diane

 
 

National Book Award Winners Announced

National Book Award LogoWinners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced last night at a black-tie dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street. This morning, the literary world is abuzz about James McBride’s win in the Fiction category for his novel The Good Lord Bird. With a strong list of finalists, many considered McBride’s novel to be an underdog. McBride seemed shocked by the win. He shared that writing the novel became an escape for him during a difficult season of his life. McBride also expressed his pleasure about the win, remarking, “Had Rachel Kushner or Jhumpa Lahiri or Thomas Pynchon or George Saunders won tonight, I wouldn’t have felt bad because they are fine writers, but it sure is nice to get it.”

 

Mary Szybist was presented with the Poetry Award for Incarnadine: Poems, her second collection of poetry. The award for Young People’s Literature was given to Cynthia Kadohata for her novel The Thing About Luck. George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the award for Nonfiction.

 

Congratulations to all the winners!

Beth

 
 

Going Home Again

Going Home Again

posted by:
November 21, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for The Hired ManAminatta Forna sets her newest novel, The Hired Man, in a rural Croatian village in the summer of 2007. As she did in her Commonwealth Writer’s Prize-winning book The Memory of Love, Forna again examines people living in the aftermath of conflict and the insidious influence of violence which lingers long after the war has ended.
 

Duro Kolak is a middle-age man; small, quiet Gost is his hometown. He lives alone since the rest of his family, like many of the villagers, has moved away. Duro picks up odd jobs, hunts with his dogs, Kos and Zeka, and occasionally visits the pub. Change comes to Gost in the form of an English family who buy a shabby vacant house as a summer retreat and a real estate investment. Duro knows the house well, as it belonged to childhood friends, and he offers to help Laura and her teenage children repair the house. Duro also becomes the family’s guide to insular Croatian culture.
 

Forna, through Duro, alternates the contemporary story of Duro, Laura’s family, and the house restoration with the tangled back story of Duro and the Pavić family who were the previous owners of Laura’s vacation home. Duro’s reminiscing begins with his friends Krešimir and Anka Pavić with whom he swims and shoots pigeons. Idyllic memories these are not, and as the roof is repaired and an exterior mural uncovered on the Pavićs’ old home, the reader is gradually led into the dark dynamics of altered friendships, a Gost before and during the disintegration of a country and the horror of ethnic cleansing.
 

Forna paces this elegiac work deliberately, allowing the two storylines to slowly coalesce into a narrative of love and war and a search for the truth. The Hired Man is a beautiful and brutal tale, built on the rotten foundation of war crimes barely plastered over by the new peacetime.

Lori

 
 

Paranormal Quest

Paranormal Quest

posted by:
November 20, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art ofr The Dream ThievesThe Dream Thieves, book two in Maggie Stiefvater’s four-book Raven Cycle series picks up after Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Blue woke the ley lines around the town of Henrietta at the end of The Raven Boys. Things are changing around them in ways none of them would have expected, ways that impede their search for the resting place of the legendary Welsh King Glendower. The second book raises the stakes of their quest and adds to the already richly detailed paranormal world that Stiefvater created in the first book.
 

Throughout the story, each of the main characters is distracted in some way from their hunt for Glendower. Gansey becomes frustrated with developments in his friendships with Adam and Ronan, and his inability to understand them. Adam has started distancing himself from his friends as a result of his personal involvement in waking the ley lines and his fear of being dependent on his rich Aglionby friends. Meanwhile, Blue becomes increasingly concerned about the prediction that her kiss will kill her one true love, which is further complicated by the love triangle forming between her, Adam and Gansey. All the while, Ronan, whose storyline takes precedence in The Dream Thieves, reveals that he can pull things from his dreams. This trait, inherited from his murdered father, is putting his life and the lives of his friends in danger as new evils come to Henrietta.
 

As their storylines seem to diverge from the search for Glendower, readers eventually find that all the stories come together and their quest takes a new and unexpected turn. The Dream Thieves’ many mysteries will keep readers enthralled, and the novel’s cliffhanger will leave them eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.

Laura