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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

 
 

The Man With the Golden Pen

Bond on BondBond fans (and we know who we are) have a nearly boundless appetite for trivia and anecdotes about Britain's most famous Secret Service agent. But who would have guessed that one of James Bond's biggest fans would turn out to be the man who portrayed him in seven films during the 70s and 80s? In Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies, Roger Moore displays a comprehensive knowledge of and appreciation for all things Bond. This includes the movies as well as Ian Fleming's original novels and stories, and even tie-in titles such as Charlie Higson's Young Bond books for teen readers.

 

Also unexpected is Moore's wry, self-deprecating sense of humor. He pokes appreciative fun at the gadgets, cars, and over-the-top plots of many of the movies. He spares his own performances least of all, saying, "I've never been guilty of method acting—or even acting, if you want to argue a point." His stories of malfunctioning secret weapons, cranky Bond girls, and location nightmares are balanced by his obvious affection for his co-workers and for the master spy he refers to as "Jimmy." Timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Bond on film (Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as Bond, premiered in 1962), Bond on Bond is a surprisingly funny and fresh book, far superior to other recent books of Bond miscellany.

Paula W.

 
 

Drawing Our Nation’s Capital

District ComicsOur neighbor to the southwest is examined chronologically in District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC. Edited by Matt Dembicki, founder of a comic creators’ collaborative called D.C. Conspiracy, this graphic anthology looks both at the familiar, and especially, the less well-known events that has shaped the culture and history of the city. Each vignette, some no more than ten pages, is written and/or illustrated by a different person, which makes for a great variety of tone and artistic style.

 

More commonly known aspects of DC history are covered, such as L’Enfant’s design of the city; Dolley Madison’s rescue of priceless items from the White House as the British burned the building during the War of 1812; and the foiled assassination attempt on Harry Truman by Puerto Rican nationalists. Two particularly moving pieces deal with Washington’s role as a focal point of the grief of the nation. One focuses on the work that Walt Whitman did volunteering to help wounded Union troops at Washington hospitals during the Civil War. The other is the story of the man who played Taps at Arlington Cemetery following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Another important historical event that gets its due is what was known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force, or B.E.F., which “occupied” DC after World War I. This group of veterans did not feel they received appropriate benefits after the war, converged on the city, and were later forcibly removed from their protest area in a fashion that seems eerily similar to the Occupy movement of today. Personal stories are featured as well, including that of janitor James Hampton, who built an incredible altar to his spiritual beliefs in a rented garage – so amazing it later made its way to the Smithsonian. Lawmakers, spies, journalists and athletes, too, take their places among the many stories in this handsome collection.

 

Todd

 
 

First Regrets

First Regrets

posted by:
October 24, 2012 - 8:01am

Each KindnessJacqueline Woodson successfully teams up once again with illustrator E.B. Lewis in Each Kindness, a picture book that tells a difficult, haunting, but vital story about passive bullying, an all-too-common form of persecution among children. In the style of a person looking back on life, Woodson instantly grabs the reader’s attention: “That winter, snow fell on everything…” When Maya, a young girl, arrives at her new school in tattered clothes and damaged shoes, she shyly greets her new classmates. However, the narrator, one of Maya’s classmates, shuns the new student for her appearance. Despite Maya’s varied attempts to break down the walls put up by her fellow pupils, they refuse her each time. One day, when it is clear that the new student has left and is not coming back, the narrator realizes her mistake and laments her unkindness toward Maya.

 

Lewis’ slice-of-life pastel watercolors enhance the poignancy of the story. Expressions on the faces of the children are precisely defined, and the beautiful pastoral setting stands in counterpoint to the cruelty exhibited by Maya’s peers. One double-page spread showing Maya’s now-empty desk is gripping, as are Woodson’s word choices as the narrator contemplates her actions at the conclusion: “…the chance of a kindness with Maya / becoming more and more / forever gone.” Readers who savoured E.B. Lewis’ illustrations when he paired with Woodson on The Other Side will recognize his brilliance here as well. Each Kindness is a natural companion to Eleanor Estes’ classic The Hundred Dresses and, for slightly older readers, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, previously reviewed.

Todd

 
 

Hail to the Chief

Hail to the Chief

posted by:
October 24, 2012 - 7:55am

Presidential PetsThe President's Stuck in the BathtubPresidential politics are in full swing as Election Day approaches and two new books for kids offer a lighter look at the men who have been elected to this highest office. Julia Moberg researched the non-human First Family members in Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House. While many had the usual cats and dogs, the White House also became home to goats, mice, bears, zebras, hyenas, and many more. Calvin Coolidge owned a raccoon named Rebecca who dined on shrimp, while Andrew Jackson’s parrot was known to use less than savory language. Each entry opens with a humorous rhyming poem that describes an event with the pet. Sidebars, such as "Presidential Stats" and "Tell Me More", offer basic information and share trivia about the president and his animal. This unique blend of humor, trivia, vibrant graphics, and children’s love of animals brings to life the presidents and the history of each man’s time in office.

  

Susan Katz uses humor in The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems about the Presidents and focuses on some of the lesser known anecdotes about our presidents. The forty-three poems are diverse in format and include concrete, free verse, and rhyming. Each poem is accompanied by a footnote outlining more specifics, and Robert Neubecker’s digital caricature illustrations are full of interesting details which highlight the stories. While trivial in nature, these funny facts are just right to pique young readers' interests. Further information is provided in the appended list of presidents which includes nicknames, a major accomplishment, and a famous quote. From William Taft’s extrication from a bathtub to John Quincy Adams skinny dipping in the Potomac, all of these stories serve to highlight the human nature of each of our presidents, and makes them more relatable to readers of all ages.

Maureen

 
 

Fifty Shades of Crime

Fifty Shades of Crime

posted by:
October 23, 2012 - 8:01am

CrusherHigh school dropout Finn Maguire spends his days selling pseudo-food at the Max Snax and his nights watching tv with his stepdad, an unemployed actor trying to write his own perfect role. When Finn arrives home from work one night, he finds his stepfather bludgeoned to death with his 1992 Best Newcomer award. The pursuit of the killer drives the story in Crusher, the debut novel by Niall Leonard. 

 

In working-class London, corruption is rampant and Joseph McGovern (a.k.a. The Guvnor) rules the streets with an iron fist. Finn’s stepfather was using The Guvnor as a springboard for his script, spinning a loosely-fictional yarn about the crime lord and his subordinates, one of whom plots a violent takeover. The police seem doggedly-focused on Finn as the main suspect in the murder, so he decides to launch his own investigation. He fears that the script may have hit too close to home, so he begins at the Guvnor’s mansion. Playing dumb, he bumbles his way into a job so that he can keep searching for clues. He soon begins uncovering secrets and revealing connections that turn his world upside-down.

 

Leonard, husband of best-selling author E. L. James, has written for many British television series including Wire in the Blood and Ballykissangel. He packs Crusher with heart-pounding action, leaving the reader as breathless as a boxer in the final round of a bout. The raw language and violence make the novel an appropriate read for older teens and young adults. Recommended for fans of true crime or gritty realism such as Sons of Anarchy.

Sam

 
 

Vampires at the Barn Raising

Vampires at the Barn Raising

posted by:
October 23, 2012 - 7:44am

The Hallowed OnesJust when you think you’ve read every possible permutation of the teen vampire trope, along comes an author to prove you wrong. Laura Bickle’s entrancing coming of age novel The Hallowed Ones follows Amish teen Katie as she contemplates marriage to Elijah. As one of the Plain folk, Katie knows she must follow the tenets of the Ordnung with unquestioning devotion. But Katie wants more from life than chores and family. She looks forward to her Rumspringa, a time when Amish youth are allowed a taste of the outside world before being baptized and fully committing to the church.

 

Bickle has created a believable, likable heroine. Abundant details of cloistered Amish life are smoothly woven into the narrative, making for a fascinating read. The author slowly builds suspense, as limited knowledge of something terribly wrong in the outside world filters into the sect. Soon, no one is allowed in or out of the fenced community. Some type of biological weapon has infected men, turning them into insatiable, flesh-tearing vampires. Only sanctified ground is safe.

 

When Katie offers asylum in her family’s dog barn to a badly injured young man, she knows it is the ultimate act of rebellion. Their relationship grows as she nurtures him back to health. Alex admires her for her intelligence and resourcefulness, rather than gentleness of word and deed. A rift grows between Katie and Elijah, as she resists committing to both him and the church. As the novel draws to a close, it becomes apparent that there are vampires within the gates. Katie’s resolve is put to the test. She has an ally in elderly Mr. Stoltz, the community’s Hexenmeister. He alone understands the true nature of the invasive evil. Vampires blanch at the sight of his protective hex signs and missives to heaven. How can they eradicate the evil within? Readers will be riveted by this uniquely told novel that skillfully blends bucolic realism with unspeakable horror.

Paula G.

 
 

And Justice for All

And Justice for All

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 8:45am

The Round HouseAward-winning author and owner of the Birchbark Books store in Minnesota, Louise Erdrich is of both European and Native American descent. Her Ojibwe heritage is an integral part of her latest novel, The Round House, which revolves around a crime committed against a woman of the Chippewa tribe.

 

Narrated by thirteen-year-old Joe, the story opens with a brutal attack on Joe’s mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist. Deeply traumatized and unable to cope, Geraldine withdraws to her bedroom, stymieing the police investigation. Joe’s father, a tribal lawyer, is convinced the violence was not random and enlists Joe’s help in reviewing pertinent legal cases which he believes will lead them to the perpetrator. With the help of friends and extended family, Joe uncovers evidence pointing to Linden Lark, a white man with a family history of checkered relations with the Chippewa. Unfortunately, while Geraldine knows the assault took place near the Round House, the reservation’s spiritual center, she cannot pinpoint the exact location and the area includes both tribal lands and state-owned property. With no clear jurisdiction, the case cannot be prosecuted and Lark is freed.

 

Erdrich braids together elements of native culture and mythology, Southern Gothic style, and the commonality of the male adolescent experience, all of which drive Joe’s decisions.  The devastating impact, both past and present, of alcohol on Indian families is unmistakable. Relations between the tribal members and the white community are repeatedly shown as tenuous, the truce uneasy. 

 

The Round House is a multi-faceted jewel.  It is a coming-of-age story, a view of contemporary Native American reservation life, and a thriller turning on legal niceties while relentlessly moving to an inevitable conclusion. Erdrich’s afterword includes information about organizations working to correct the difficulties of prosecuting reservation crimes, especially sexual assault against Native women. 

 

Lori