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Librarians

Through the Eyes of a Child

Through the Eyes of a Child

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:01am

 

What I DidIt all begins with a boy, a father and a busy street. Christopher Wakling’s latest book, What I Did, shows how one small incident can become a case study in multiple viewpoints, having a much greater impact on people as a result. Billy runs into the road ahead of his father on an outing to the park. His father reacts with the typical fury of an overworked parent, cursing and roughly handling his son. What takes this incident from minor to major is a woman who sees him disciplining the boy and calls child protective services, who launch an investigation. What is equally intriguing and at times baffling for the reader is trying to determine the details of what actually happened, since the story is told by an unreliable narrator--six-year-old Billy.

 

Despite the serious plotline, the narration is often laugh-out-loud funny. Billy’s voice is similar to the young narrators of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Emma Donoghue’s Room. Lacking in social skills, he is imaginative and has a unique perspective of the world around him. He also has a fascination with animals and science, and his commentary is interspersed with random bits of trivia. Still, the reader only has Billy’s perspective, and his actions are steered by a six-year-old’s intellectual capacity for understanding what to do and say in order to bring this incident into proper perspective. A few sections read like a “Who’s on First” routine, when Billy misinterprets what is being asked by social workers and doctors. Wakling has an interesting background, and mentioning on his website that this book was in part inspired by his own experience with fatherhood and the character flaws it has exposed in him. This is a unique, engaging read where the reader roots for Billy and his parents, despite their flaws.

 

 

Melanie

 
 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit

 

The Mansion of HappinessAnyone who has ever played Milton Bradley's The Game of Life knows that, whether you are winning or losing, players inexorably move in one direction. Fresh faced college graduates turn into employees who become parents and eventually, if all goes well, age gracefully into retirement. But real life doesn't really end (or start) that way.  Jill Lepore, Pultizer Prize finalist and frequent essayist for The New Yorker, challenges our understanding of the origins and rules of the modern game of life in her recent book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

 

Lepore uses Bradley's game and its antecedents (one which carries the name of the book) to frame her humorous and often biting discourse on such disparate topics as abortion, cryogenics, time management, and children's libraries. Each chapter explores an aspect of a different stage of life, starting with before birth and ending after death along with nearly everything in between. In every section, Lepore features an eccentric, influential, and often morally ambiguous cast of characters who have all shaped how we view our lives and our society.  She draws these wide-ranging people and subjects into a fluid and accessible narrative that is, though not historically comprehensive, certainly thought provoking and resonant for a modern audience. And for those who are especially inquisitive Lepore provides a wealth of footnotes and a well-developed index, which the more casual reader can safely avoid. Like many of the best histories, The Mansion of Happiness uncovers insights into our twenty-first century lives in the decisions, coincidences, and consequences of the past. Fans of American history and the intellectually curious will both be satisfied with this engaging and compelling journey through the game of life. 

Rachael

 
 

What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading?

posted by:
November 1, 2012 - 7:01am

 

The End of Your Life Book ClubA wonderful accolade to literature and a memorial to his incredibly gifted and generous mother, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club combines the two gracefully. From the title, it is clear that this book club eventually comes to a close. However, this is not a maudlin tale, but instead a celebration of a mother and son’s love.The book’s table of contents gives an immediate impression of some of what the book club covered; each chapter carries the title of the book that was discussed between the group’s two members. Schwalbe, a former editor at Hyperion, immediately sets the stage in the Sloan-Kettering care center where his mother, Mary Anne, receives chemotherapy for her advanced pancreatic cancer, and where many of their book discussions took place. Mary Anne has always been a dynamo, from her teaching days to doing aid work overseas (her passion is getting a national library built in Afghanistan), to the uncanny way she remembers everything. Each family member is well-described, from his younger sister, torn about moving to Geneva when she learns of her mother’s diagnosis, to Will’s older brother, a rock of support for the family. While the family has the means that many others may not, their situation, suffering, and grief is universal.

 

Books certainly play a major role in the text, and while there are many discussions about fictional works (titles by Wallace Stegner, Steig Larsson, and Alice Munro, among others), the most memorable passages come from books of poetry, self-help, and spirituality. Mary Anne and Will have differing views on matters of faith, but it is clear that each of them respects the other. This is a title that will resonate with many readers, especially those who were moved by memoirs such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home

 

Todd

 
 

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Who Let the Dogs Out?

posted by:
October 31, 2012 - 8:11am

National Geographic Kids Everything DogsKate & Pippin: an unlikely love storyDid you know that the largest dog on record was Zorba the English Mastiff who weighed in at 343 pounds? There are more pet dogs in the world (about half a billion) than there are human babies.  U.S. Presidents have owned a total of 118 dogs while in office. National Geographic Kids Everything Dogs: All the Canine Facts, Photos, and Fun That You Can Get Your Paws On! by Becky Baines with Dr. Gary Weitzman will charm any dog lover, young or old. This exciting new book for kids is full of colorful photos, attention-grabbing graphics, and astonishing dog facts.

 

For a charming story about a dog and her improbable best friend, try Kate & Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story by Martin Springett, with photography by Isobel Springett. When a fawn named Pippin was abandoned by her mother, no one could have guessed the bond that would develop between her and Kate, a Great Dane. Kate had never had puppies of her own, but she immediately began to cuddle little Pippin, who followed her protector around everywhere she went. Eventually, Pippin began to live on her own in the forest, but she still comes back to visit her good friend Kate and the other animals on the farm. The two still enjoy running and playing together. The Springetts, a brother and sister team, document Kate and Pippin’s friendship with photos and simple text, perfect for a young child.

Beth

 
 

Colorful Cats and Dogs

Colorful Cats and Dogs

posted by:
October 31, 2012 - 8:01am

Red Cat, Blue CatFinders KeepersWhat is the color of a happy cat? In Red Cat, Blue Cat, written and illustrated by debut British artist Jenni Desmond, two jealous cats try to figure it out. Red Cat is nimble and lives downstairs; Blue Cat is clever and lives upstairs. Whenever the two meet, much caterwauling ensues. Little do they know that each secretly longs to be like the other. Whimsical and bright, the playful illustrations of colored pencil, collage, water color and ink spill over each page as the cats try wacky ideas to make themselves over. “If I turn myself red, I will become fast and bouncy!” thinks Blue Cat, as he eats an assortment of red things, like cherries, watermelon, even rose petals, to no avail. Red Cat, who really wants to be smart, then tries blueberries, bluebells, blue pudding and certain cupcakes, with no better luck. It’s not until the two work together that they understand that each has special qualities to appreciate and share. Until they spot a yellow cat - Meow!

 

Finders Keepers, written by William Lipkind and illustrated by Nicolas Mordvinoff, first delighted children and families in 1951 and won the Caldecott Medal for distinguished American picture book. This classic tale of two dogs and one bone, is charmingly illustrated with simple, vintage line drawings and a measured color palette. Reminiscent of Aesop’s or La Fontaine’s fables, the dogs, Winkle and Nap each lay claim to a bone in the barnyard. They then query the farmer, the goat, and others in the quest to determine rightful ownership. Fooled by greed and tricked into tasks along the way, they too work together in the end to reclaim and share their bone.

Andrea

 
 

This Ain’t Mayberry

This Ain’t Mayberry

posted by:
October 29, 2012 - 8:10am

A Killing in the HillsCarla is pissed. She is a petulant, angst-riddled teen stuck in a stupid boring diner, in a stupid boring small town, in stupid boring West Virginia waiting for her mom, who is late, again. Out of nowhere POP, POP, POP! The three elderly men sitting at a table near her are executed, systematically shot in the head one after another. Thus begins A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller, the first novel by this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. 

 

The main character is Belfa Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for the community of Acker’s Gap, who is also Carla’s mother. Bell, as she is known by her friends, was born and raised in Acker’s Gap and is all too familiar with the difficulties and crime particular to this rural and impoverished community. After completing her law degree, she returned to her hometown to try to help with the fight against crime. Similar to its big city counterparts, drugs have taken a stronghold in the region and there has been a steady increase in violent crime and death as a result.

 

This is a cleverly-written tale with as many twists and turns as the snakelike West Virginia mountain roads. Keller, who was born and raised in West Virginia, accurately depicts the harsh realities of the unemployed who reside between played out coalmines and towns where more businesses are closed than open. The complicated relationship between Bell and her daughter is poignantly realistic they forge a prickly path through the turbulent teenage years. Carla can identify the shooter and takes it upon herself to try to help with his capture, and this keeps the suspense building to a surprising climax. The combination of the family storyline and the mystery of the killer’s motive and identity make this a captivating read. Hopefully this won’t be our last visit to Acker’s Gap.

 

Jeanne

 
 

A Little Bit Country

A Little Bit Country

posted by:
October 29, 2012 - 7:45am

City Girl, Country VetLondon veterinarian Maz Harwood is out of work, unlucky in love, and in need of a home when her best friend Emma asks her to fill in at her vet practice in City Girl, Country Vet by Cathy Woodman.  While Maz dreads the doldrums of the country, she wants to help her friend who is taking a six month leave of absence. Maz accepts the offer thinking that a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered to help heal her recently broken heart.

 

Maz thought the hardest part of the move would be trading in her heels for wellies. She quickly learns that country life is anything but uneventful and the people are definitely not boring. There are the unwelcoming locals who are suspicious of the newcomer. There is the town’s only other vet practice which is determined to destroy any competition. There is the fact that Emma’s practice is in dire financial straits. And of course, there is the handsome son of the rival vet who is most unsuitable, particularly when Maz has sworn off romance.

 

As Maz learns to navigate the perilous politics of country life, she encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her quest to win over the locals, save the lives of her patients, and keep Emma’s practice alive. From rescuing animals from a burning building to dealing with the resentment following her failure to save a beloved pet, Maz has her hands full and is ready to flee back to the comfort of the city. Readers will be transported to a delightful small town and enjoy the slow pace of life in this warm, breezy, romantic comedy with plenty of adorable four-legged friends.

 

Maureen

 
 

Lightning Strikes Twice

The Garden of Evening MistsOne of the literary world’s more prestigious prizes is Great Britain’s Man Booker prize for contemporary fiction. On October 16, Mantel’s novel, Bring Up the Bodies, won this year’s Booker award. Second in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Mantel won the same prize in 2009 for her first book in the series, Wolf Hall. While Mantel is only the third author (and the only woman) ­to win the Booker twice, she is also the only author to win again for a sequel. Between the Covers looked at Bring Up the Bodies in September.

 

One of the short list nominees was Indian poet and musician Jeet Thayil’s debut novel and an homage to the sub-continent’s drug culture, Narcopolis. Thayil, a self-confessed former addict, takes the reader on a fantastical journey through Bombay’s opium dens and brothels. Often revolving around Dimple, a beautiful enigmatic eunuch working as a prostitute and pipe-preparer, the narrative slips in and out of the side stories of other characters while the arrival of heroin begins to exert its influence in this underworld. In interviews, Thayil says he wanted to honor the “poor and marginalized, the voiceless,” whose story rarely is told and he does so in a portrayal that is disturbing and graphic but not gratuitous.

 

 Also on the short list was author Tan Twan Eng for his novel The Garden of Evening Mists. In the earliest stages of dementia, Malaysian judge Yun Ling Teoh is retiring from the bench. Once a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp in the Malayan jungle where her sister died, Ling Teoh then survived the pursuant guerilla civil wars by taking refuge in the Highlands with an exiled Japanese royal gardener and artist. Elegantly written, grim with historical detail, The Garden of Evening Mists tantalizingly reveals the secrets in Ling Teoh’s complex past.

Lori

 
 

Modern Girl Meets Prince Charming

Modern Girl Meets Prince Charming

posted by:
October 26, 2012 - 7:03am

The Runaway PrincessA Royal PainEveryone knows that in fairy tales a common girl meets a handsome prince, they fall in love, she marries him, and they live happily ever after. These two new novels bring that familiar fairy tale theme to life with a twist. In Hester Browne’s The Runaway Princess, Amy Wilde is happy with her gardening business, her friends, and a life out of the spotlight. Then she meets Leo. To her dismay, Amy finds out that her smart, funny, handsome boyfriend is really Prince Leopold William Victor Wolfsburg of Nirona, the ninth most eligible royal bachelor according to YoungHot&Royal.com! After a change occurs in the order of succession, Amy takes on the new role of princess-in-training. Her commoner world is turned upside down as she is thrust into the public eye and must deal with the colorful characters that make up Leo’s famous family. Amy begins to wonder if she can be with Leo and still be herself. Browne’s lovably quirky characters and the warm humor in this modern fairy tale are certain to charm fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding.

 

Smart, foul-mouthed Bronte Talbott, the heroine of Megan Mulry’s sexy debut romance A Royal Pain, decides to have a fling with Max Heyworth, the handsome English grad student whom she flirts with at the bookstore. She thinks Max will be the perfect “transitional man” after an ugly breakup with her loser ex-boyfriend Mr. Texas. The plan is a success until she realizes that she has really fallen for him. But Max is head-over-heels in love, and has been since meeting Bronte. He only agreed to her short-term relationship plan because he knows he can convince her to make it something more. He is also hiding something from Bronte-- he is really Maxwell Fitzwilliam-Heyworth, the 19th Duke of Northrop. When Max gets a call that his father is seriously ill, his secrets are exposed. A Royal Pain is a delectable blend of Sex and the City and Cinderella, sure to win Mulry’s new series many devoted fans.

Beth

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Cornucopia of the Curious

History abounds with innovators, leaders, peacemakers and visionaries, men and women who have performed great deeds in the world and have earned their respective chapters in the history books.  Chris Mikul’s latest work is no such history book.  Instead, The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived is a delightful hodgepodge of 226 of history’s most unusual characters – charmers, madmen and ne’er-do-wells who are worthy of an amusing footnote, if not a chapter in the hallowed halls of history.

 

One such is Edward William Cole, who rose to become the most successful bookseller in Australia. Born in 1832, the son of a laborer, Cole possessed an extraordinary flair for advertising, which he utilized to found increasingly successful book arcades and even to find a wife.  More than an excellent businessman, Cole was a generous spirit, who would allow patrons to read in his arcades all day without purchase. He also vehemently opposed racism and published pamphlets expounding its absurdity.

 

Mikul’s book is peppered with similarly curious histories. He reveals the darker side of Bobby Fischer, the genius widely considered to be history’s finest chess player. He also delves into the history of Hetty Green, one of Wall Street’s savviest and wealthiest investors, whose investment acumen was matched only by her obsessive stinginess, a predilection which ultimately cost her son his leg. Mikul offers the compelling tale of Moondog, the blind street dweller with an extraordinary gift for music whose Norse-inspired apparel earned him the moniker “Viking of 6th Avenue.”  A celebration of nonconformists, mavericks, and the just plain bizarre, Mikul’s collection of character vignettes is broadly recommended for readers who seek to be immediately engaged by their reading material.  

Meghan