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Hard Knock Lives

Hard Knock Lives

posted by:
January 9, 2013 - 9:01am

One for the MurphysThe Great Gilly HopkinsReal life doesn’t always have a happily ever after. Kids may want to try these two well–written books for stories of real life with real endings. After a violent episode of abuse by her mother and stepfather, twelve-year-old Carley Connors is sent to her first foster home where she is welcomed by Mrs. Murphy, herself a first-timer.  In One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Carley tries to survive in a strange new environment while being haunted by broken pieces of memory from that horrible night. New clothes, home-cooked meals and a return to school is a lot of adjustment for this tough, neglected girl from Las Vegas. A less-than-warm welcome from her foster brother and foster father adds to her anxiety. Hunt displays a deft touch with serious issues, showing Carley’s discomfort and distrust of the kindness shown to her without hitting the reader over the head with her angst.  Her characters feel genuine with real emotions and concerns. Carley learns a lot about herself and about love while staying with the Murphys. 

 

First published in 1978, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson is another foster child story with similar themes of finding family and finding yourself. Gilly Hopkins is an eleven year old girl bouncing from foster home to foster home until her beautiful mother, Courtney, can come claim her. The book tells the tale of her stay with Maime Trotter, her foster son William Ernest and family friend, blind Mr. Randolph.  Gilly is independent, strong-willed and blunt with her opinions, particularly about the “freaks” she has been stuck with.  Gilly’s crude language and bad behavior makes her particularly unlikable at first.  The reader begins to cheer for this unhappy creature as the details of her life emerge and as she grows to care for her foster family.  The winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, The Great Gilly Hopkins still resonates with children today.

Diane

 
 

A Thousand Words

A Thousand Words

posted by:
January 9, 2013 - 8:55am

Red Knit Cap GirlThis Is Not My HatTwo of last year’s most critically acclaimed picture books happen to be titles featuring headwear. Naoko Stoop’s Red Knit Cap Girl is a gentle, imaginative tale of a young girl who wants to get close enough to the moon to have a conversation. Following the sage advice of Mr. Owl, she enlists the help of her woodland animal friends to send a signal. Bunny, bear, squirrel and hedgehog assist in the hanging of Red Knit Cap Girl’s paper lanterns, made for a special full moon celebration. They sing together, but Moon is absent from the party. Then Red Knit Cap Girl has an epiphany—a quiet, dark forest is most inviting. Stoop’s charmingly old-fashioned illustrations are rendered in pencil, ink and acrylic on plywood. The wood grain adds an appropriately naturalistic element, each page’s background carefully selected to enhance the overall effect. Stoop is also a master at conveying darkness and light, and the subtle shades between.

 

The minnow protagonist of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat introduces himself to the reader by boldly announcing that his newly acquired chapeau is stolen property. In fact, he himself is the one who snatched it. Rich digital illustrations enhanced by Chinese ink portray a deep black ocean, rife with various hues of brown sea plants. The pictures here tell a story that contradicts the text, leaving observant readers to delight in the thought of what might come next when the hat’s owner, an enormous, no-nonsense fish, discovers it missing. Much like Klassen’s enormously popular I Want my Hat Back, this picture book is driven by wry humor and the power of inference.

Paula G.

 
 

A New Kind of Sibling Rivalry

A New Kind of Sibling Rivalry

posted by:
January 8, 2013 - 8:55am

What's Left of MeThe world which Kat Zhang creates in her dystopian debut, What’s Left of Me, is in many ways similar to our own. The biggest difference is when a person is born, two souls exist within each body. After years of war, the government decided to put a stop to this, and created programs to force the souls to settle -- in other words, to get rid of the weaker soul. Children are taught that this is normal, and that having two souls is not. Adults reinforce that hybrids, those with two souls in one body, are evil and create problems in the world, and therefore should be turned over to authorities so they can be fixed.

What’s Left of Me is told from the perspective of Eva, a non-dominant soul, who has refused to settle. Her dominant counterpart, Addie, is afraid of being discovered as a hybrid, but Eva wants to maintain her sense of power. Eva and Addie end up meeting others like them, which only leads to more trouble. After being sent away with their new friends to be “fixed” by the government, Eva and Addie learn what the government has really been doing with hybrids and they join the movement against it.

Kat Zhang’s first novel is a smart, well-told story that leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next novel in the Hybrid Chronicles. The sibling relationship between Eva and Addie and the friendships that they form with other hybrids like them make their experience seem not so far-fetched. Fans of dystopias will surely enjoy this unique new novel.

Laura

 
 

The Powers Within

The Powers Within

posted by:
January 8, 2013 - 8:45am

The Darkest MindsChildren are getting sick in Alexandra Bracken’s new title The Darkest Minds. They are leaving school and never coming back, victims of a mysterious illness. Adults are afraid of the ones who are not sick, the ones who have developed special "abilities". These survivors are rounded up and sent to rehabilitation camps where they are tested, sorted, and imprisoned. Sorted into groups by color (corresponding to ability), the children are forced to work, fed little, and often tortured. Ruby learns right away that orange is a bad color to be, so she pretends to be green. Human touch awakens her ability—at best she can erase people’s memories, at worst she can force thoughts into their heads. At long last she is given the chance to escape, but is life on the run any better than life inside the camp?

 

Bracken does an especially good job of giving her characters unique and believable voices. Under different circumstances, these kids would be superheroes. Instead, Bracken shows us a society that is afraid of differences as various power-hungry groups vie for control of the children and the power they possess. Fans of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series or Kathy Reichs’ Virals books will be thrilled to find this new science-based adventure, the first in a series.      

Sam

 
 

Law & Order

Law & Order

posted by:
January 7, 2013 - 9:15am

Luther: The CallingLutherFans of the gripping BBC drama Luther will welcome the opportunity to meet an early incarnation of tormented Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther in Luther: The Calling. Readers meeting Luther for the first time will be quickly intrigued by this dedicated detective and head to the DVD shelves to grab copies of the first two seasons. Neil Cross, author of this prequel, is also the show’s creator and sole writer. Fans of the show know that the television series begins with the end of a ghastly case. The novel opens at that case’s inception which involves the savage murders of a young husband and his eight months pregnant wife, as well as the removal of the baby who may still be alive. This investigation and other horrific events lead Luther to an ethical cliff as the novel moves at a rapid pace toward a conclusion that coincides with the opening of episode one of the show.

 

At the heart of both the compelling series and this gripping, psychological thriller is Luther, a tormented investigator struggling with demons, including rage against the violent perpetrators he encounters. Luther is dedicated to his job to the point of self-annihilation, and his single-mindedness threatens his health and his marriage. His wife, Zoe, has always managed to keep Luther balanced. But lately, their relationship has been off kilter and Luther refuses to take time off to rest and repair. Zoe looks elsewhere for intimacy, while Luther continues in his blind quest to destroy evildoers.

 

As readers travel through some of the seamier sides of London, there is plenty of action, including graphic violence not for the squeamish. John Luther’s unique character will continue to develop as Cross is hard at work on a new Luther novel and filming of season three of the series starring the delectable and dashing Idris Elba is underway.

 

Maureen

 
 

Target: Unknown

Target: Unknown

posted by:
January 7, 2013 - 8:50am

The InterceptDick Wolf’s new Jeremy Fisk series begins with The Intercept, an action-packed thriller following anti-terrorism detectives racing against time to save New York City from an unknown attacker. The novel begins when a plot to hijack SAS Flight 903 bound for Newark is foiled on July 1st. The Six, the group of passengers and flight crew who stopped the hijacker, become the biggest media sensation since Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his “Miracle on the Hudson.” Detectives Jeremy Fisk and Krina Gersten of NYPD’s Intelligence Division, a unique anti-terrorism unit created after 9/11, help other agencies debrief The Six after Flight 903 lands. Fisk quickly realizes that the botched hijacking might not be the open-and-shut case everyone thinks it is, and he and Gersten continue investigating the other passengers. They find that a Saudi Arabian national who was also onboard Flight 903 disappeared soon after landing. What if the hijacking was just a diversion to draw attention away from the real terrorist attack that is yet to come? As New York City gears up for a VIP dedication ceremony for One World Trade Center on the morning of July 4th, Fisk and Gersten rush to stop the unknown attackers from perpetrating an attack on US soil.

 

Wolf is the creator of TV’s Law & Order, and fans will recognize his style and pacing in The Intercept. He is an expert at building suspense. The Intercept is a fast-paced thriller filled with plot twists that leave readers guessing until the novel’s dramatic conclusion.

 

Beth

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Such is Life

Such is Life

posted by:
January 4, 2013 - 9:15am

It's Fine By MeIt was not a ghost thirteen-year-old Audun Sletten saw that day on top of the hill at the end of his newspaper rounds. It was his estranged father, who regrettably appeared to be back in town. For the troubled teenager it was just one more reminder of a gnawing past best forgotten and of a future, tentative and urgently beckoning. In Per Petterson's recently translated novel, It's Fine by Me, the Norwegian author revisits the cold, stark landscape of his previous novels with this quiet, coming of age story. Set in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, a story is told of a family chafed by family dysfunction and a young person's toiling for what is important.

 

Audun and his family have not had it easy. Escaping an explosive husband, his mother has started a new life for Audun and his siblings in a working class section of Oslo. On the first day at his new school he meets Arvid, an unlikely friend who is something of a political idealist and also loves books. In their growing friendship, Audun opens up about his past and his plans for the future. He wants to be a writer. Over the next five years, Audun sees his life change, his family slowly falling apart. His tough guy persona, fashioned after his favorite literary heroes, helps him cope when his own defenses are down.

 

Petterson, the author of the award winning Out Stealing Horses, reveals Audun's story at a leisurely pace. Alternating between a defining past and a present that are at times raw and emotionally charged, it is prose that also gives up streaks of hope. Readers familiar with J. D. Salinger's classic, Catcher in the Rye, will recognize in Petterson's protagonist the rebellion and alienation of youth and the unpredictable journey that awaits.

Cynthia

 
 

Revisiting Art, or Learning How to "Look"

Always LookingAlways Looking: Essays on Art, by John Updike, is an invaluable collection of fourteen eloquent discussions that examine Western painting and sculpture. Although Updike was an acclaimed writer of literature, many readers might not know that he was also an art connoisseur. His skillful nonfiction reveals an astute perspective which masterfully dissects art in a way that will gratify the seasoned appreciator, as well as the casual observer who is just curious to learn more.

 

John Updike’s lifelong passion for visual art began in childhood when discovered comics, like Mickey Mouse in the Treasure Hunt. Into adulthood, he continued to seek out pieces that fascinated him and curiously described familiar pieces in a new way. While considering Gustav Klimt’s "The Dancer", Updike questioned if the painting is “a bold and necessary step in the direction of modernism, or an uneasy half-step, a cheaply bought glamour, a kind of higher kitsch?”

 

Much more than a conversation of art, Always Looking offers rich and vivid images of the very works Updike is discussing.  From René Magritte’s unnervingly sensual "The Lovers" to Roy Lichtenstein’s loud pop of "In the Car", the short essay format makes this a perfect book of leisure. You might dip in for a bit and read on a topic or discover the pleasure of flipping through its pages to take in the richly dynamic selection. This stimulating reconsideration of classics will change the way you look at art.

Sarah Jane

 
 

Father Knows Best?

Father Knows Best?

posted by:
January 3, 2013 - 8:45am

Because I Said So!We’ve all heard the warnings from Mom and Dad. Wait an hour after eating before you go swimming or you’ll get a cramp. If you swallow gum, it will sit in your stomach for seven years. Chewing on pencils will give you lead poisoning. In his new book Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, record-breaking Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings searches for the truth behind the myths that parents tell their children. Using case histories, scientific research, and statistics, Jennings investigates the warnings passed down to us from our parents in a book that both informs and entertains.

 

Do you really need to wait for your parents to check your Halloween candy for poison or razorblades? Jennings says probably not. You're more likely to have octuplets or die by elephant stampede than you are to eat poisoned Halloween candy. Will you really get arthritis from cracking your knuckles? Knuckle popping may be annoying, but it doesn't cause arthritis. Is chewing ice really bad for your teeth? According to Jennings, yes, it actually is. The cold causes the tooth fibers to contract as you chomp down on the hard ice cube, making you more likely to break or chip a tooth. Because I Said So! is a perfect read for fans of Discovery’s Mythbusters, trivia buffs, and those of us who simply want the right to say “I told you so.”

Beth

 
 

Is Perception Reality?

Is Perception Reality?

posted by:
January 2, 2013 - 11:05am

Liar & SpyNewbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead is back with another gem for the middle grade crowd in Liar & Spy. Georges has a lot going on, not the least of which is his name. Yes, his parents named him Georges (silent s) after their favorite painter, pointillist Georges Seurat. Needless to say, this only gives the bullies at school more ammunition in their relentless torment. His former best friend is now ensconced in the cool crowd. Georges has had to move from the only home he knew following his father’s job loss. And his mother is working double shifts as a nurse at the hospital to get some much needed extra cash.

 

The only bright light is the Spy Club at his new apartment building led by the homeschooled Safer. He is convinced another tenant, the mysterious Mr. X, is up to nefarious dealings. Safer and Georges begin an intensive spying campaign, and Georges grows closer with Safer’s quirky family, including his appropriately named younger sister, Candy, whose appetite for sweets is insatiable. As the spy game becomes more extreme and Safer becomes more demanding, Georges is forced to question Safer’s honesty and motives all while dealing with a missing mother, who only communicates with Georges via messages on a Scrabble board. Georges avoids visiting his mother at work, and readers soon learn there is more to that situation than meets the eye.

 

As with Seurat’s paintings, Georges learns to look at the big picture, rather than focus on the small stuff. This is a fascinating coming of age story filled with twists and an appealing and relatable young man. Long after readers finish this book, they will be thinking about the questions posed regarding family, friendship, loyalty, perception, reality and truth.

Maureen