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 The National Book Awards longlist for fiction was released today. The judging panel includes several authors, including Baltimore’s own Laura Lippman. The five finalists will be announced on October 14th. The winner will be announced on November 18th. 


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Down Among the Dead Men

posted by: September 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Down Among the Dead Men by Peter LoveseyWhat do a car thief, an art teacher, a suspended police officer and multiple missing persons have in common? To find out, Peter Diamond must go Down Among the Dead Men.


A small-time car thief just trying to earn a living snags a BMW. This becomes the worst mistake of his life. Pulled over by suspicious constables, a search of the car finds one very dead body. Convicted as an accessory to murder, he lands in the pokey for a very long stretch.


Superintendent Peter Diamond is coerced by his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, to investigate a colleague’s breach of professional ethics. Ever the self-promoter, Dallymore expects to play a little golf with her superiors while Diamond brings in a result. To his dismay, he discovers the suspended officer in question is Henrietta Mallin, an excellent detective he has worked with in the past. Mallin admits that she received DNA results implicating her niece in a crime and failed to follow up. Diamond discovers the incident occurred three years before and the top brass knew it, yet chose not to pursue the issue at the time.


At the time of her suspension, Mallin was investigating a disturbing number of missing persons in one geographical area. The most difficult part of committing murder is getting rid of the body. What if someone simply disappeared and never reappeared? If all those missing persons turn up dead and the murder rate skyrockets, it would create a catastrophe for the division brass. As Diamond seeks the evidence to exonerate Mallin, he must navigate a minefield of egos — most especially Dallymore’s.


Peter Lovesey, a recipient of the Agatha Lifetime Achievement Award, writes a narrative that is both suspenseful and convincing. If you enjoy Elizabeth George, Stephen Booth and Colin Dexter, you’ll add Peter Lovesey to your list of must-read authors.



Scents and Sensibility

posted by: September 14, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Scents and SensibilityPrivate investigator Bernie Little and his canine companion Chet come to the rescue in Spencer Quinn's newest caper, Scents and Sensibility. Upon returning home from their adventures in our nation’s capital, Chet and Bernie are confronted with two thefts. The first affects their elderly neighbor, Mr. Parsons, the recipient of an illegally procured saguaro cactus. The second affects Bernie directly — his grandfather’s antique watch, Bernie’s prized possession, is stolen. Both of these incidents appear to be related to the neighbor’s son, recently released from prison and looking for fast cash. Bernie, ever the stalwart defender of the underdog, is outraged at the treatment his neighbor receives at the hands of one bureaucrat, who is equally outraged at the threat to the desert environment.


Doggedly determined to dig his neighbor out of trouble, Bernie and Chet head for the desert to investigate. There, they find the unfortunate bureaucrat, dead at the bottom of a hole recently occupied by a saguaro.  Obviously, there’s a lot more at stake here than just a few stolen cacti. As they investigate, they discover links to drug smuggling and a long ago kidnapping. They also have their fair share of troubles with the opposite sex. Bernie is maintaining a long-distance relationship, and Chet is introduced to a puppy who looks and even acts an awful lot like him.  

The delightful tales of Chet and Bernie are narrated from the dog’s perspective. Chet has limited understanding of his surroundings and he's often distracted by squirrels, cats, flies and the occasional female. Chet’s thought processes are laugh out loud funny, and his absolute devotion to Bernie is deeply touching. Bernie may be the brains of the outfit, but Chet’s deep loyalty often saves the day.


This is the eighth book in the Chet and Bernie mysteries, which started with Dog On It. The plots are original and refreshing, the mysteries are well-plotted and the characters are genuine. Whether you are looking for an engaging read or an audio book for a road trip, you can’t go wrong with this series.



The Game Believes in You

posted by: September 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Game Believes in YouJournalist Greg Toppo, author of the new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, has experienced both sides of the highly polarized and controversial status quo of video gaming. While some abhor games, believing them to be time sinks that are slowly brainwashing our youth, others value them as unique forms of highly engaging media capable of reaching an audience that is notoriously unengaged. In The Game Believes in You, Toppo analyzes current efforts to blend education and recreation into perfect learning tools for plastic minds.


The Game Believes in You is comprised of 12 chapters. The majority focus on the positives and argue that games could — and should — be used in public school classrooms, and a few debunk falsities that have stigmatized games in recent years. Toppo profiles visionaries who are championing Pokémon as the nation’s answer to No Child Left Behind, teaching curriculums entirely from within the realms of World of Warcraft, renting land in Second Life to serve as virtual Open Door space and even developing methods to mentally control games as a form of therapy to treat ADD, ADHD, PTSD and depression.


Games can also become new means to teach the classics. Walden, a game is volunteer-developed and aims to condense Henry David Thoreau’s social experiment into a replayable, decision-driven adventure. Lexica is a tablet-based MMO (massively multiplayer online game) in which players create avatars and help classic literary characters who have been sealed away in a gigantic library to be forever forgotten. Both games draw heavily from source texts for inspiration, and Lexica even includes entire books to be read for quest credits to level up and unlock new content.


Toppo posits that games are becoming more accessible to children at even younger ages as the 21st century progresses, and educators everywhere should be taking advantage of this. Rather than lambasting our youth for staring at their beloved screens all day, we should be using those screens as conduits to their malleable minds and showing them that education can be just as fun as their favorite games.




The Forgotten Room

posted by: September 9, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Forgotten RoomIn the beginning of The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child, Jeremy Logan is headed toward a sprawling mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, to investigate the gruesome suicide of a research scientist. The victim, Dr. Willard Strachey, was a well-respected member of the team at Lux, a preeminent think tank organization. Coincidentally, Logan worked for Lux until he was let go because the scientists there had issues with Logan’s specialty. He is an “enigmalogist,” which is someone who studies and attempts to make sense of phenomena as ghosts, the Loch Ness monster and other such entities.


Logan is surprised to be summoned back to Lux. However, the company’s director, Gregory Olafson, is a friend of Logan’s and feels that the circumstances leading up to Strachey’s death fall under the supernatural. Strachey complained of hearing voices and seeing things no one else could. As Logan investigates both the man’s death and the other bizarre occurrences going on at Lux, he wonders if the reasons are otherworldly, or if something more sinister is going on. It’s a race against time for Logan to solve the mystery surrounding Lux’s culpability in Strachey’s death before he becomes the next victim.


Lincoln Child has written three other entries in the Jeremy Logan series, Deep Storm, Terminal Freeze and The Third Gate. You don’t need to read the others to enjoy The Forgotten Room.



Circling the Sun

posted by: September 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Circling the SunThere are some books you just do not want to end. Paula McLain's new historical fiction novel Circling the Sun is just that kind. Richly atmospheric and thick with romantic nostalgia for 1920s British colonial Kenya, this literary treat is like eating a ripe peach over the kitchen sink: satisfying and juicy with just the right amount of messiness.


It is the story of aviator Beryl Markham, who in 1936 became the first woman to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic. But McLain feels Markham was just as noteworthy for her sometimes scandalous earlier on-ground adventures.. This lesser-known past comes to life in a dialogue-fueled, first-person narrative set magnificently "before Kenya was Kenya."


Irreverent and unsettled, the former Beryl Clutterbuck is a trailblazer. She was one of the first successful racehorse trainers of her era in a time when male trainers dominated. She bucked tradition at every turn, owing her independence to her upbringing. Abandoned early on by her mother, she was reared by her horse-training father and influenced by the local Kipsigis tribe. It is not surprising that this independent and fearless young woman's natural ambitions are at odds with the times. Her relationships were often rollercoaster, unhappy affairs. Even the love of her life, Denys Finch Hatton, is not hers alone. She shares the seductive safari hunter with her friend, the hospitable, aristocratic coffee farmer Karen Blixen, who would go on to write Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen. It is a perilous love triangle that is the heart of the story.


McLain, whose previous book was the hugely popular The Paris Wife, about Hemingway's first spouse Hadley Richardson, deftly recasts Markham as avant-garde if not ethically suspect. The ability to make us care about this heroine from the other side of the world almost 100 years ago is testament to McLain's richly textured storytelling and smart supply of interesting characters from drunks and expats to tribesmen and royalty. If it makes you want to read Markham's own superb memoir West with the Night or revisit Dinesen's Out of Africa, McLain has done her job.



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