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Bloggers

 

A World Without the Super Soaker®?

What Color is my World?There’s more to former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than just basketball. In What Color is My World?: the Lost History of African-American Inventors, he and co-author Raymond Obstfeld tackle the book's subject and make it interesting for kids!

 

Twin siblings Ella and Herbie are less than thrilled about their new fixer-upper of a house.  Eccentric handyman Mr. R.E. Mital comes to work on the house and slowly shares with the two the potential of their new home. He also uses different things in the house as a starting point to share contributions made by African-American inventors. Turning on a light bulb prompts a discussion about Lewis Latimer, while working in the kitchen brings up George Crum and his marvelous invention of the potato chip.

 

Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a vice-president at IBM, Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks, and of great importance to children everywhere, nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker® squirt gun! Ella’s notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel-style passages. This surprising and informative exploration of unfamiliar inventors is also fun thanks in part to the realistic banter between the siblings.

 

This is a fun easy read that can be read cover to cover, but the book's layout also makes it an ideal choice for skipping around and reading about those of most interest – like Alfred Cralle, inventor of the indispensable ice cream scoop! A list of books, websites, and videos is included at the end for those who want to keep on learning. And like Ella and Herbie, the reader uncovers a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s real identity.

Maureen

 
 

Eight-Year-Old Seeks Adventure, Finds Friendship

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the WorldIn Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World, eight-year-old Iva Honeycutt has a thirst for adventure. Her summer plan is to make her first big discovery and earn membership into the National Geographic Society. First she has to ditch her girly-girl double cousin, Heaven. Iva’s mother and Heaven’s mother are sisters. They married brothers and planned their families so their children would grow up as best friends. This is great for Iva’s older and younger sisters, who were paired with cousins they liked. Iva is stuck with bossy Heaven, who lives next door and tattles on her constantly. 

 

Iva sets out to find the lost treasure of General Braddock. She finds a treasure map from her great-grandfather Ludwell, changes her name to Iva Honeysuckle and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Heaven gets her cousin signed up for Vacation Church School, where Iva earns the distinction of being the first child ever expelled. Will her summer improve? Will Iva join the National Geographic Society? Enjoy finding out the answers in this quirky, fun read by Candice Ransom. The author peppers her story with eccentric characters like Mr. and Mrs. Prindy, who had a falling out thirty-five years ago and have only spoke through third parties ever since. Euple Free is patiently covering his truck in used tinfoil, and Swannanoah Prindy spends her time picking through the trash to offer up as treasures to others.

 

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World is a light, funny read for the elementary school crowd. Young readers will enjoy the adventure and the freedom Iva has as she sets out to make her mark on the world.  Ransom’s original storytelling is engaging and fun. Illustrations by Heather Ross add to the charm of the story. This one is perfect for summer reading.

Diane

 
 

A First Look at Nature’s Heroes

Life in the OceanRachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the WorldFor the BirdsThree of the most famous naturalists of the past one hundred years get their due in introductory, illustrated biographies for young readers. Each extraordinary life shares a common thread--following a strong interest in the natural world as a child and developing it into a career that changed the way Americans interact with their environment.

 

In Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the sea and all of its hidden plants and animals are brilliantly portrayed by author and illustrator Claire Nivola. From the New Jersey farm she lived on until age twelve, to the seaside in Florida where she spent her adolescence, these surroundings shaped Sylvia Earle’s life and her curiosity about the natural world. Diving into the depths and encountering whales and amazing bioluminescent fishes, her ongoing exploration of the ocean and fight to keep it clean and preserve its treasures has made Earle a pioneer for female marine biologists.

 

Rachel Carson is well-known worldwide for her seminal critique of pesticides and the chemical industry, Silent Spring, as well as other important works. Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World is a good introduction to her life and accomplishments. Showing an early interest in nature throughout her childhood, she found her niche after taking a biology course in college.  Laurie Lawlor covers both Carson’s triumphs and difficulties in this tightly-written biography.

 

Though known in his neighborhood for his unusual habits as a child, Roger Tory Peterson is now noticed for what he noticed--the incredible world of birds. His curiosity and lifelong passion to educate the masses and conserve the habitats our feathered friends is the subject of For the Birds: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson, best known for his many field guides to bird identification and behavior, is described vividly by Peggy Thomas, and the illustrations by Laura Jacques are striking. Of particular note is a double-page spread of a flicker just taking flight.

 

Budding environmentalists can learn about three of the most famous names in natural science with these timely picture book biographies.

Todd

 
 

No One is to Blame

No One is to Blame

posted by:
May 22, 2012 - 8:07am

The Fault in Our StarsAdult readers are catching on to what many librarians have known for years—some of the most vibrant, intriguing books in the library are in the teen section. Word of mouth and media buzz have been building for teen lit star John Green’s latest title, The Fault in Our Stars, and for good reason. This smart, funny and altogether engrossing novel follows the evolution of a romance that begins in the most unlikely of places, a cancer support group for teens.

 

Neither Hazel Grace Lancaster nor Augustus Waters show up at the meeting with romance on their minds.  Hazel Grace, a 16 year-old with terminal thyroid cancer, is clinically depressed. Her mother is forcing her to attend. Augustus, a former high school basketball star, is dealing with bone cancer and the loss of his leg. And he can’t help but notice how much Hazel Grace resembles his late girlfriend.

 

Homeschooled since her diagnosis at age thirteen, her best friends are her parents. She spends much of her time reading and watching America’s Next Top Model. Her favorite book above all is An Imperial Affliction, about a teen with leukemia who is dying. Hazel Grace identifies with the protagonist, and finds it maddening that the novel ends mid-sentence without wrapping up important plot strands. She’s written the author, Peter Van Houten, numerous times without getting a response.

 

She and Augustus bond immediately, as “Citizens of Cancervania” who each have an insider’s understanding of what the other is going through. And the chemistry between them is almost palpable. Augustus spends a good amount of time gaming and watching movies; his book of choice The Price of Dawn, is based on his favorite video game. He understands how much An Imperial Affliction means to Hazel Grace, so much so that he uses his “wish” from The Genie Foundation to take her and her mother to Amsterdam to meet Van Houten and demand some answers.

 

Green has a knack for bringing his characters to life through believable, snappy dialogue. He is a true, honest observer and reporter of the human condition, making his books memorable. Hazel Grace and Augustus will stay with you long after the last page is turned. Readers will need to keep a tissue box close at hand, as The Fault in Our Stars is a tearjerker throughout. Teen readers as well as adult fans of character-driven novels and love stories against all odds will find much to like here.

Paula G.

 
 

Jennifer Lawrence Takes on Southern Gothic

SerenaFew audiences can think of The Hunger Games without picturing Jennifer Lawrence, the talented young actress who portrays Katniss Everdeen and who also earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2010 film version of Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone.  So what’s next for the famous “girl on fire?”  According to Entertainment Weekly, Lawrence will soon be starring in yet another page-to-screen adaptation, this time as the title character in Ron Rash’s 2008 thriller, Serena

 

Set in Depression-era North Carolina, Rash’s story introduces us to newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton as they stake their claim to a lumber empire deep in the Appalachian Mountains.  The two rule over their territory like feudal lords and Serena quickly proves herself to be a survivor in the harsh wilderness, an equal to any of the men.  But after Serena learns she cannot bear children, she unleashes a murderous plot against George’s illegitimate son to secure her power and plunges into madness rivaling that of Lady Macbeth.  Hauntingly written, this is a gothic tale of greed and corruption driven by an unforgettable female character.  Jennifer Lawrence is definitely no stranger to visceral leading roles, but Serena promises to be a dark and exciting departure from the good-hearted protagonists the actress usually plays.    

  

Serena was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and is a highly recommended pick for fans of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Frazier.  While the film adaptation (co-starring Bradley Cooper) doesn’t hit theaters until 2013, you can check out your copy of Serena today!    

Alex

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Mysticism, Opium, and Titanic

The House of Velvet and GlassHave you ever wondered what it must have been like to stroll through the elaborately appointed rooms of the Titanic on its maiden voyage, or dine alongside extravagantly dressed women and some of the wealthiest people in the world? Did you ever consider what Old Shanghai may have been like for a crew of sailors after months at sea, or speculate about one of its infamous opium dens?  What about envisioning how it must have felt to be alive during the early days of the twentieth century in affluent Boston, where social standards defined every aspect of your life?  The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is a masterfully woven tale that encompasses all of these settings and more. 

 

The story is set in the years preceding World War I and revolves around lives of the Allston family.  The mother and youngest daughter have perished on Titanic’s ill-fated crossing 3 years previous, and the eldest daughter Sibyl continues to struggle with their loss.  Her mother’s death has forced her into the role of family caretaker.  She and her father are residing in the family’s brownstone in Boston’s wealthy  Back Bay region when her younger brother abruptly returns home from school under mysterious circumstances.  Sibyl has taken to attending séances hoping to contact her Mother, seeking both comfort and advice regarding her brother.

 

This story moves between different time periods, telling the back story of Mr. Allston when he was a young sailor and the account of the Titanic passengers.  Howe effectively weaves all of these plots into a complete, cohesive, and interesting story. Her thorough descriptions and authentic flare make each scene come to life.  No details are spared in this enchanting historical novel that will capture your imagination and your heart.

Jeanne

 
 

Fiction Award Nominees

Fiction Award Nominees

posted by:
May 21, 2012 - 5:01am

Lost Memory of SkinThe Forgotten WaltzSwamplandia!The nominees for the inaugural Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction were recently announced.  This award recognizes books written for adults that were published in the U.S. in the previous year.   The three finalists deal with varied and unique topics, but each has a strong emotional current running throughout.

 

In Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks turns a magnifying glass toward the outcasts of society.  A “community” of convicted sex offenders has sprung up on a causeway at the edge of the city limits in South Florida.  These men are caught in the grey area of the legal system; they cannot reside within 2500 feet of any gathering place for children but they must live within the city according to the conditions of their parole.  Never one to shy away from the morally complex, Banks presents these men sympathetically and challenges the reader to reexamine his/her own moral code.  Lost Memory of Skin was a 2012 Pen/Faulkner Award finalist. 

 

Sparsely written and often surprising, The Forgotten Waltz is a novel set in Ireland that deals with the emotional taboo of extramarital affairs.  A chance meeting leads Gina and Sean into a passionate affair that takes years to arrive at a crescendo. Booker Prize winner Anne Enright takes an unapologetic look at love, marriage, infidelity and secrets.  Enright’s writing is non-linear and poetic.  Musical metaphors abound in the witty dance that is The Forgotten Waltz, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize.

 

Swamplandia! by debut author Karen Russell is the story of Ava Bigtree, a thirteen-year-old alligator wrestler at her family’s animal park in the Florida Everglades.  The struggle to save the park after the death of her mother rests squarely on Ava’s shoulders, as the other members of the family withdraw to battle their own personal demons.  Whimsical, beautiful language anchors this magical tale to a place somewhere between imagination and reality.  Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Sam

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An Amusing State of Cluelessness

An Amusing State of Cluelessness

posted by:
May 19, 2012 - 10:42am

A Surrey State of AffairsShe has a daughter on a reality show called Dungeon.  Her Lithuanian maid just does not understand what it means to properly look after a house.  And for some reason, her match- making skills amongst her fellow church bell ringers do not seem to be working. 

 

So begins A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford.  Constance Harding has lived a perfect sort of sheltered existence as a British housewife in Surrey, but lately modern-day life has not cooperated with her. She is forced to start a blog (suggested by her thoughtful son as an alternative to sharing everything with only him) and give daily updates to the World Wide Web about life as she sees it. 

 

Get ready to relive 2008 day by day!  Constance is a faithful blogger, even when her beloved parrot almost flies away.  She struggles to find the perfect conservative woman for her son, puzzles about why her daughter wasn’t excited about her 19th birthday party (who wouldn’t like a magician or fairy cakes?) and continuously thinks up reasons for her husband’s erratic behavior.  Her interpretation of life and events stays humorous and fresh, and it is all part of the charm of this clueless fifty-something narrator who is about to experience one big dose of reality from the modern world.

 

This amusing book is perfect for a light weekend or vacation read.  It’s entertaining and straightforward.  Fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Winifred Watson will love this delightful story.  

Melanie

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A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia

 
 

The Pioneer Woman Does It All

Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My FrontierCharlie the Ranch DogBlack Heels to Tractor Wheels

Ree Drummond is a successful blogger, Food Network star, and author.  Her down-home comfort foods have really struck a chord with readers and cooks from all walks of life. Drummond’s success began with her blog The Pioneer Woman, which has a legion of followers, receiving 24 million hits monthly.  The blog covers her family life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch, her efforts to homeschool her children, and of course, cooking.  The recipes are delicious and easy to follow, and readers love that Drummond illustrates them with step-by-step photos.

 

It seemed like a natural transition for Drummond to publish cookbooks.  Her most recent, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, is filled with tasty recipes color photos, and Drummond’s anecdotes and comments.  You’ll want to try the recipes for yourself when you see her homemade glazed doughnuts, cowgirl quiche, and “Knock You Naked” brownies!  The book quickly became a bestseller, and there are now more than 480,000 copies in print.

Drummond recently started filming the second season of her Food Network show “The Pioneer Woman”.  Like her blog, the show features her life on the ranch, her family, and her favorite recipes.  Viewers will also be interested to know that she has published a picture book called Charlie the Ranch Dog that features her family’s beloved basset hound.

 

It’s not all about the recipes, though.  To learn more about Drummond’s life, try her memoir Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, which tells the story of how she met her husband Ladd Drummond who she affectionately calls Marlboro Man in the book and her blog.  Ree originally planned to go on to law school, but everything changed when she met Ladd.  She shocked her family by marrying him and moving to the ranch. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beth