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Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

posted by:
September 19, 2012 - 7:55am

Fairest of AllBeauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run AwayYoung readers who fondly remember fairy tales will fall in love with two new titles that add a modern spin on classic childhood favorites.

 

In Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski, ten year old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror in their new house. The magical mirror sends them back into the Snow White fairy tale and the duo is responsible for tangling this tale so that there might not be a happily ever after. Mlynowski’s version is funny and contemporary with enough changes to spice things up. Three of the seven dwarfs are women and one has pink hair! Comical hijinks result as the two kids try to fix what they botched, resulting in a hysterical read. The swift pace combined with Abby's quick wit and a real sibling relationship will grab readers from page one. This is a wonderful start to the Whatever After series which promises future magical adventures behind the looking glass.  

 

Wendy Mass also fractures a favored tale with Beauty and the Beast: the Only One Who Didn’t Run Away, the third entry in her popular Twice Upon a Time series. Beauty is a twelve year old dealing with self-esteem issues and a name which she thinks doesn’t reflect reality.  Prince Riley is a gangly bagpipe player who ends up on the wrong end of a witch’s spell and suddenly starts growing fur and sharp nails. Both have superstar older siblings who outshine them in everything. Mass set her version of the story in a medieval kingdom, but her two protagonists are pleasantly modern and relatable. Told in alternating chapters by Beauty and the Prince/Beast, the pace of this quest story is quick and filled with adventure and romance.

Maureen

 
 

It's Not Personal, It's Business

Mr Big: a Tale of Pond LifeMr. Big: a Tale of Pond Life, the cover reads. But when one delves into it, the reader finds this graphic novel by Carol Dembicki and Matt Dembicki is so much more. It begins innocently in springtime as the pond comes to life. The authors show the inhabitants of the pond in a natural light, reminding the reader that life and death are regular parts of the pond ecology. Nighttime in the pond is illustrated using stunning artwork to describe the nocturnal inhabitants’ hierarchy. This simple lesson about life in a pond suddenly twists into a dark tale of revenge when Mr. Big, the resident snapping turtle, quite naturally eats two curious young fish that swim too close. Just another example of the cycle of life in the pond? Not this time. The mother of the young fish refuses to take this one lying down. She pulls together some other pond dwellers – the frogs, other turtles, even the ladybugs – and puts a hit out on Mr. Big. A murder of crows is up for the job, but do they have an ulterior motive? Soon there are ominous sightings of a monstrous fish that can walk on land and fly through the air!

 

Throughout the story, the authors weave together layers of drama and intrigue. The hypocrisy of the frogs as they blithely swallow insect after insect while condemning Mr. Big for eating other creatures; the danger a little mosquito can pose; and the damage done by the introduction of non-native animals to an ecosystem are all subtly imparted to the reader. The rebelling animals remain nameless, yet their thoughts and fears are imparted to the reader via thought bubbles and dialogue. Mr. Big, the only named character, is silent, yet the reader is left with the impression that for Mr. Big "It’s not personal, it’s business." Adults and older children alike will find something to enjoy in this nuanced graphic novel about the perils of messing with Mother Nature.

Diane

 
 

Tell Me Something Worse

Tell Me Something Worse

posted by:
September 18, 2012 - 8:00am

The RaftIn this year of the anniversary of the Titanic’s ill-fated voyage, survival at sea has been a common theme. In S.A. Bodeen’s deceptively simple novel The Raft, the clear-cut lines between life and death become as blurry as heat rising from asphalt, when a young girl struggles to stay alive. Fifteen-year-old Robie’s method for overcoming her fears has always been to ask people to "tell me something worse", but what do you do when there is nothing worse?

 

Robie lives a life that many her age would kill for. Her parents are research biologists, and the family lives on Midway Island, west of Hawai`i. Robie is home-schooled, makes her own schedule, and hangs out with naturalists and National Geographic photographers. When she gets bored, she hops a plane to Honolulu to visit her uber-cool aunt AJ. She is returning home from her aunt’s when the unthinkable happens—the engines fail and the small plane plummets into the sea. Robie and the co-pilot, Max, are the only survivors. Adrift in a leaky raft with an unconscious pilot, Robie is on her own. While food, water and the elements are the major physical concerns, keeping herself mentally present is proving to be an even greater challenge. As her body grows weaker, it becomes all-too-easy to simply close her eyes and give up. Max won’t let her do that, however, and he wakes just often enough to force her to stay alert, alive, and ready for rescue.

 

Bodeen is the author of many books for teens, including the best-seller The Compound. She ventures away from her usual science fiction fare with The Raft, but keeps firmly grounded in marine biology for her descriptions of ocean and island wildlife. Readers will be absorbed but also torn between lingering over the vivid details and rapidly turning the page to discover Robie’s fate.

Sam

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Free As We’ll Ever Be

Free As We’ll Ever Be

posted by:
September 18, 2012 - 7:55am

Pushing the LimitsDebut author Katie McGarry’s edgy new contemporary novel Pushing the Limits was written for older teens, but it is also attracting the attention of Romance readers.

 

Echo Emerson and Noah Hutchins are high school seniors brought together by Mrs. Collins, the new social worker who has taken on their cases. Each of them is facing serious struggles. During Noah’s freshman year, both of his parents died, and he and his two younger brothers were placed in separate foster homes. He hates the system and is desperate to find a way to bring his family back together. Echo is dealing with the loss of her brother Aires, a Marine killed in Afghanistan. She is also trying to understand another event that rocked her world. During Echo’s sophomore year, something happened while she was visiting her mother. What happened that day left Echo’s arms badly scarred, but she can’t remember anything about it. No one will tell her the whole truth, and a restraining order now prevents her from having contact with her mother. Rumors about what happened to her have made her a social outcast at school. As Echo and Noah fall in love, they both search for the truth and work to repair their own lives.

 

This novel takes on loss, mental illness, and family dynamics. Echo and Noah are both damaged people, but despite their unusual circumstances, they are also both relatable characters. The narration alternates between their points of view, giving each of them a unique voice and perspective. Pushing the Limits marks Katie McGarry as a hot new author to watch.

Beth

categories:

 
 

Past is Present

Past is Present

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 8:45am

The Cutting SeasonAttica Locke’s highly anticipated new novel The Cutting Season is an atmospheric murder mystery that weaves together two stories, skillfully drawing readers between past and present. A gripping story of race, love, and politics, The Cutting Season grabs readers from the first page. Caren Gray’s family has been connected to Belle Vie, an antebellum plantation in Louisiana, for generations. Unlike the neighboring farm where migrant workers harvest sugarcane, Belle Vie is now an historic estate open for tourists and social events. Caren lives on and manages the estate where she catches glimpses of the plantation’s dark history every day. When a murdered woman who worked on the neighboring farm is found in a shallow grave on Belle Vie, local police begin an investigation that Caren feels isn’t being handled properly. She digs deeper, asking questions that lead her to Belle Vie’s past. As she learns more, she starts to see parallels between the current murder and the disappearance of a former slave named Jason in 1872. Caren is unearthing secrets that someone may kill to keep hidden.

 

This novel is the first book in HarperCollins publishing’s new Dennis Lehane Books imprint. Lehane says of Locke’s writing, “I was first struck by Attica Locke's prose, then by the ingenuity of her narrative and finally and most deeply by the depth of her humanity. She writes with equal amounts grace and passion. After just two novels, I'd probably read the phone book if her name was on the spine." If The Cutting Season is any indication of what readers can expect from Lehane’s imprint, it will be very successful.

 

Beth

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Truth or Torture

Truth or Torture

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 8:20am

The InquisitorGeiger, a troubled and complex man, has one special talent – he is able to immediately discern a lie. This skill comes in handy in his work as an information retrieval specialist, a euphemism for professional torturer. In The Inquisitor, Mark Allen Smith creates a unique, flawed character in this sometimes grisly, but always thrilling story that follows this one-named man in a dark world of intrigue.

 

Geiger and his partner Harry enjoy their work in the torture business, and while Geiger has complete focus on his craft, he does have one unbendable rule that he will not hurt children. Geiger himself has no memory of his life before he woke up on a bus when he was 19 or 20. He is working with a counselor to unlock some of the repressed memories from his traumatic childhood in an effort to eradicate the debilitating migraines which have been occurring more frequently.  

     

Geiger’s client, Richard Hall, is supposed to be bringing an art thief to him, but instead shows up with the thief’s twelve-year-old son Ezra. Rather than torture Ezra to discover his dad’s whereabouts, Geiger takes the boy and goes on the run. His protective instinct triggered, he also begins to develop an unexpected emotional attachment to Ezra. Hall and his cronies pursue the duo and the chase is on!  Unfortunately for Geiger, his resources pale in comparison to Hall’s who seems to have unlimited power and contacts in high places. In fact, as Geiger soon learns, there is much more at stake than a stolen painting. This fast-paced thrill ride with a compelling protagonist makes this a memorable debut which ends too soon. The good news is that Geiger will be back as Smith is hard at work on the sequel.  

 

Maureen

 
 

A Not so Peaceful Place

A Not so Peaceful Place

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 7:45am

Gone MissingIn the quiet and picturesque town of Painters Mill, Ohio there is a thriving Amish community. These families have strong religious beliefs and shun the use of electricity, cars, and motorized farming equipment. They lead a simple life by relying on the land, and they have minimal interaction with outsiders. One would think such a peaceful place would be unfamiliar with the darker side of human nature, but sadly one would be mistaken. Linda Castillo has created an exciting mystery series situated in this bucolic setting, which has seen a crazed serial killer targeting both Amish and English women, a horrific home invasion, and hate crimes. The disappearance of young Amish teens is the focus of her latest release Gone Missing.

 

The Painter’s Mill Sheriff’s Department, though small, has a valuable and effective tool at its disposal to assist in solving crimes that involve the Amish. Her name is Chief Kate Burkholder, and along with her experience as a big-city law enforcement officer, she also was raised Amish. The plain folk have a natural distrust of law enforcement and few people are in the position to cope with the clash of cultures and ideals as Chief Burkholder.

 

Gone Missing is the fourth Amish mystery written by Castillo, though it is not necessary to read them in chronological order. In each, she provides a concise backstory that summarizes her protagonists’ personal demons and the inner battle to keep them in check. Sworn to Silence, the first Kate Burkholder novel, is under production by the Lifetime network as a two-hour movie starring Neve Campbell, with the possibility of it becoming a regular series. Interesting, informative, and chilling, these mysteries may not represent a serene drive in the country, but they are definitely worth the trip.

 

Jeanne

 
 

Life As We Come to See It

Life As We Come to See It

posted by:
September 14, 2012 - 8:45am

An Uncommon EducationWaiting for one’s life to begin often means missing out on the present. In An Uncommon Education, Elizabeth Percer presents a reflective, coming-of-age story. Naomi Feinstein spends her childhood waiting for circumstances to change, especially hoping for more friends and freedom from her classmates’ cruelty. As a young adult, she gradually comes to terms with her life, embracing both its imperfections and possibilities. 

 

More than one person’s reflections, however, this book is also an immigrant story and family saga. Naomi chronicles her lonely childhood with first-generation immigrant parents who were often in poor health. Her father was Jewish and her mother a Catholic who converted to Judaism, which furthers her feelings of isolation and confuses her sense of identity and where she belongs. Gifted with a photographic memory and fascinated from an early age with saving lives and curing illness, Naomi goes to Wellesley College to become a doctor. Her time at the school is heavily influenced by her initiation into a secret Shakespeare society comprised of students who are all unconventional or outsiders in some capacity.

 

Although a large part of this story takes place at a university, Naomi’s true “education” is the life lessons she receives along the way, particularly when a scandal threatens her hard-earned friendships. Percer’s writing is very poetic and lyrical. As a narrator, Naomi is smart and insightful, and as her character matures, so does her narrative style and thought process. Readers will relate to her journey, which is less heroic than it is a series of wrong turns and learning by trial and error. A good recommend for book clubs.

 

Melanie

 
 

Fables for Grownups

Fables for Grownups

posted by:
September 14, 2012 - 8:00am

Some Kind of Fairy TaleCharlotte Markham and the House of DarklingIn Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, we meet the Martin family, who has been devastated since their sixteen-year-old daughter Tara mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago. Searches were unsuccessful and her boyfriend Richie was accused but never charged. On Christmas Day Tara resurfaces looking just as she had twenty years before, spinning a seemingly implausible tale of a mysterious gentleman and a place in the woods that only allows access several times a year. Tara insists that only six months have passed, but her family remains twenty years older. The Martin family must decide to question the nature of reality, or question Tara’s sanity. Some Kind of Fairy Tale takes an interesting spin on the contemporary fable and is definitely a unique read.

 

Another new and very different look at another world is the slightly darker Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino. It begins as a standard gothic piece with a large English country house, the master in mourning from the loss of his young wife, and an attractive governess hired to care for the two children. It soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems in the town when the nanny of the boys is murdered, seemingly ripped apart by wild animals. Charlotte and the two boys are also having mysterious dreams about a man dressed entirely in black and a strange house through the mists where the boys’ mother remains alive. When these dreams become reality, Charlotte finds herself playing a dangerous game, one that she must win for the sake of herself and the children. Both of these tales offer strong characters, suspense, mystery and an enticing other-worldly setting. Perfect for adults who want a bit of fairy magic and a fascinating tale that will sweep them out of reality into a world of dreams.

Doug

 
 

Across the Pond Contenders

Across the Pond Contenders

posted by:
September 13, 2012 - 8:30am

Bring Up the BodiesThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FrySkiosWhat do Skios by Michael Frayn, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies have in common? Each has been included on the Long List of Great Britain’s highly coveted contemporary fiction award, the Man Booker Prize.

 

Taking place on the private Greek island of Skios, blonde Nikki Hook is the coolly capable public relations rep for the prestigious Fred Toppler foundation. She is preparing for the arrival of, and fantasizing about, much vaunted guest speaker Dr. Norman Wilfred. Nikki’s gal pal Georgie is heading to a secretive tryst at the other end of the island with dilettante playboy Oscar Fox. Lost luggage, mistaken identity, wrong rooms, taxi-driving brothers, and a language barrier all figure prominently in this farce, both comedic and satirical. Euphoksoliva, anyone?

 

Hobby-less Harold is recently retired. Seemingly estranged from his only son, on the very last nerve of his house-cleaning wife, and locked in desultory lawn care chats with his recently widowed neighbor, Harold needs a purpose. Purpose arrives via the mail in the guise of a brief letter from former co-worker Queenie Hennessy, who writes to let Harold know she is dying. Harold responds with a quick condolence note but instead decides that if he walks to see Queenie himself, she will survive. Marching along in yacht shoes and a neck tie, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has Mr. Fry walking five hundred miles through England as he develops both blisters and perspective in this charming yet poignant tale.

 

Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 winner of the Booker Prize, Wolf Hall, and again features Thomas Cromwell. Now a powerful minister to Henry VIII, Cromwell’s job is to clear out Anne Boleyn as Henry yearns to replace her with Jane Seymour. Written using present tense, the author offers a fresh view on Cromwell as a thoughtful reformer carrying out the wishes of the King. Mantel’s skill in writing fascinating and suspenseful historical fiction is on display here, drawing in the reader despite the foregone conclusion. Mantel plans a third book which will complete the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

 

Lori