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Another Opening, Another Show

DramaFans of graphic novelist extraordinaire Raina Telgemeier will be thrilled to get their hands on a copy of her latest work, Drama. Seventh grader Callie’s life revolves around the annual school theater production, and this year it’s the musical Moon over Mississippi. Callie’s not an actress; she’s all about the set design. Told in a traditional comic panel style and rendered in vivid full color, Drama follows Callie and her production crewmates as they navigate relationships both onstage and off. Intended for a slightly older audience than the autobiographical Smile, this graphic novel addresses not only the complexities of boy-girl relationships, but also those of boy-boy.

 

A former high school drama performer herself, Telgemeier stays in touch with her inner theater geek, perfectly capturing the immersive nature of working on a school production. Can inexperienced Callie pull off an incredible set design (including a real working cannon and a leaf-shedding tree) on a bare-bones budget? What will the new guys at school, twins Jesse and Justin, lend to the show? And will Callie ever find her very own leading man?

 

Drama is rife with in-the-know backstage details, from the somewhat creepy costume vault to the lighting cues and the set change challenges. Callie is a likeable, fully-realized girl who readers can’t help but root for. Telgemeier populates Eucalyptus Middle with a diverse group of passionate, relatable friends. Her drawing style portrays both expression and depth, realism layered with comic conventions. Drama stands out as an appealing, addictive graphic novel, a book that will no doubt be read, re-read, and passed from friend to friend.

Paula G.

 
 

Teenage Tartare

Teenage Tartare

posted by:
October 2, 2012 - 7:01am

ShadowsFlesh & BoneThe InfectsThere's no escaping them. Fast or slow, dead or alive, zombies and zombie-like cannibals are everywhere right now. From The Walking Dead to ParaNorman, their bloody, shuffling antics entertain and disgust us in equal measures. Or not. For some people, the only good zombie is a zombie they don't have to think about, and for those people, here's a handy guide to Teen Books to Avoid. But if you or a teenager you love can't get enough of the hungry dead and their gross-out antics, here's grist for that mill:

 

Shadows, the sequel to Ilsa J. Bick's marvelous wilderness apocalypse novel Ashes, takes up immediately where Ashes ends. All teenage Alex had wanted was peaceful camping trip alone with her thoughts after the tragic death of her parents, but when a brilliant light bloomed on the horizon and most of the adults fell down dead and the other teenagers turned into silent, bloodthirsty monsters, well, let's just say it was a good thing she brought her father's Glock in her backpack. Ashes and Shadows should be read back-to-back - there's no time for recaps as Alex flees the fundamentalist sect that has taken her in only to fall directly into the hands of...

 

Zombies! Ever since they escaped the mayhem of First Night, when the dead suddenly began to rise, and bite people, and make more zombies, Benny and his big brother Daniel have lived in a small town surrounded by a big fence. Life within the fence is good, but rather strict. When Daniel agrees to take Benny on as an apprentice zombie killer, Benny imagines he is in for a life of adventure, but the truth turns out to be not quite what he had expected. Fast-paced and tightly plotted, Jonathan Maberry's Rot & Ruin is like a classic Old West gunslinger novel set in a beautifully imagined postapocalyptic America. First in a trilogy, the sequels are Dust & Decay and the recently released Flesh & Bone.

 

The Infects is prose stylist Sean Beaudoin's entry into the teen cannibal catastrophe sweepstakes. Loaded with pop culture references and sarcasm, this book is fast and freaky and lots of fun. Seventeen-year-old Nero was already having a bad week, sentenced to an Outward Bound-type trip for juvenile delinquents, when all of a sudden everybody but the bad boys on the bus falls victim to a virus that causes zombie-like behavior, i.e. lurching, drooling, and lusting after human flesh. You'll never look at fast-food chicken the same way again. 

 

Bone appétit!

Paula W.

 
 

Women on the Verge

Women on the Verge

posted by:
October 1, 2012 - 7:00am

The PlaydateThe Playdate is a terrific psychological thriller from debut author Louise Millar. The story is told from the points of view of three very different women. Each has events in their pasts that they are trying to hide from one another. Pasts have a way of creeping up on you though, often in terrible and unexpected ways.

 

Callie is a single mother raising her daughter Rae, while Rae’s father is away in Sri Lanka with his new girlfriend. Callie is feeling alienated from her old friends and longs to return to work as a sound effects editor. She has become close friends with a neighbor, Suzy, but feels that Suzy can be intense, almost clingy with their friendship. Suzy is facing troubles of her own, raising three sons with almost little or no help from her husband, Jez. Jez is emotionally distancing himself from Suzy, and this makes her desperate to find a way back into his affections. Debs has recently moved to the row home right next door to Suzy.  Debs is older than Callie or Suzy and is used to living life on her own, and she is adjusting to life with her new husband. Debs also has little tolerance for noises of any kind. Airplanes flying overhead, a neighbor flushing the toilet or even vacuuming can create in her a sense of madness.

 

The Playdate is an incredibly tight thriller. The reader is aware that something unpleasant is going to happen, and as the novel progresses and secrets are revealed, the action intensifies. The story barrels forward to an intense conclusion, making The Playdate a gripping read.

Doug

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A Silent Voice Heard

A Silent Voice Heard

posted by:
October 1, 2012 - 6:45am

Love AnthonyStill battered by the smoldering remains of loss, Nantucket resident Olivia Donatelli struggles to find the meaning of her autistic son's short life in Lisa Genova's heart-tugging new novel, Love Anthony. Her journey of reflection leads to an unlikely encounter with another island resident that is as complex as the autism spectrum that defined her son's eight years of life.

 

Olivia is a mother tormented by grief. When she moves to the salty, picturesque island following the unexpected death of her son, Anthony, she brings with her too many lingering “what ifs.”  To obtain answers, she revisits her old journal entries of her life with Anthony and her estranged husband, David.  Her new job as a beach photographer brings distraction and as well as contact with another mother who faces her own personal loss.

 

Beth Ellis has been slammed by the proverbial Mack truck when she learns her husband has cheated on her. Reeling, she turns to writing as a way to pick up the pieces. It is her subject, a silent autistic boy she once observed, that provides the link between the two women’s parallel lives and their path to a renewal and understanding that only time can provide.

 

Although Genova has meticulously drawn characters in Beth and Olivia, it is the captivating, innocent voice of Anthony that provides the poignant glimpses into an autistic child’s mind.  In her story, Beth gives the boy a voice that is both wondrous and sad. Here the reader sees the neuroscientist Genova at her best, deftly conveying the complex neurological misfirings of the human mind in ways that are both compassionate and oh so real.  Like her previous books, Still Alice and Left Neglected, Love Anthony enlists the reader in a club that no one wants to join but that everyone can imagine.

 

Cynthia

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It's the End of the World As We Know It

The Dog StarsThe world has changed in Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars.  A pandemic has infected millions. Many have not survived, and those that have are shunned and avoided.  The novel begins nine years after the outbreak, and centers around pilot Hig and his aging dog, Jasper. Hig and Jasper live at an abandoned airport with survivalist and gun-nut Bangley.  Hig has refurbished a 1956 Cessna, which he takes on short flights in the area. He has to choose his paths with care. If he flies too far, he could run out of fuel.  Airports in the area can be dangerous places. Wandering groups of marauders appear that would kill you as soon as look at you.  Airport runways have fallen into ruin and there is a good chance Hig would not be able to land.  He could find himself too far from home, and not able to find the fuel he needs to get back.  He finds himself desperately lonely.  He is reminded of his wife Melissa who died during the pandemic.  Bangley is not much for conversation. Occasionally, Hig flies to deliver supplies to a group of Mennonites who have been infected with the blood disease, but he can never get too close with them. Suddenly, a tragic event happens that will change Hig’s perceptions and force him to make a decision that will alter the course of his life.

 

The Dog Stars is primarily a character study of a man who has lost hope.  It is a heartbreaking work, and the reader gets the sense of intense loneliness that Hig is feeling, trapped in this new world, fighting each day for survival.  Written in short passages and often single sentences, the story has a distinct style that is very readable and ultimately compelling.  This is a novel to be savored, and the reader will remember Hig long after they have finished the final page.

Doug

 
 

A Sweet Treat

A Sweet Treat

posted by:
September 28, 2012 - 6:01am

When in Doubt Add ButterMaryland native and bestselling author Beth Harbison has another hit on her hands with her new novel When in Doubt, Add Butter. Engaging, witty, and warm, this book is a sweet treat for a lazy afternoon. Gemma Craig is a private chef who spends her days catering to her clients’ unique needs and whims. She has the job that she has always wanted, and it pays just enough to keep her afloat financially. Each day is devoted to a different client. On Mondays, she cooks for the Van Houghtens in their beautiful Chevy Chase home and contends with uptight Angela’s crazy dietary restrictions that include no dairy, no beef, no onions, no soy, no nuts, no honey, no cinnamon or “warm spices,” and no garlic. Paul McMann, a.k.a. Mr. Tuesday, is a busy lawyer whose tastes run to comfort foods. Mr. Tuesday is never home, but the two of them regularly exchange flirty notes about the food. On Wednesdays, Gemma sees Lex Prather, a flamboyant social butterfly who could be played by Tony Randall. His tastes run to classic high society fair like oysters Rockefeller and Waldorf salad. Thursday nights, she cooks for the Olekseis, a large family headed by widower Vlad who Gemma worries may be involved in the Russian mob. Fridays are set aside for Georgetown social-climber Marie Lemurra who was recently on a reality show and strives to connect with B-list celebrities and politicians.

 

Gemma’s life is right on track until she gets fired by Marie for an unfortunate incident involving a peacock and the bumper of Gemma’s car. (Really, how was she supposed to know that they had a pet peacock?) Then, Gemma learns that someone is sabotaging her weekend catering jobs, and her well-ordered world starts coming apart at the seams. After a one-night stand with a mysterious man named Mack, things get even more complicated. Gemma has to pick up the pieces and figure out how to put her life back together.

Beth

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Death and Depravity

Death and Depravity

posted by:
September 27, 2012 - 7:45am

MonsterWanton debauchery, an all-consuming thirst for vengeance, satanic worship, madness, an undead predator-- any of these characteristics could be utilized to describe a monster. Readers encounter a plethora of individuals that qualify for this label in Dave Zeltserman’s new release Monster. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creature fashioned from different human body parts and brought to life by Victor Frankenstein is easily classified as the monster. Zeltserman’s novel is the story of the unfortunate and unwitting brain donor used in the mad doctor’s creation. Written in a style that mirrors Shelley’s original work, this is a dark and menacing tale about a tortured man trapped in the body of an abomination.

 

Friedrich Hoffman is a young man convicted of killing his betrothed a week before their marriage. After suffering an agonizing and horrendous death on the wheel, he awakens on a slab in Frankenstein’s laboratory. His intelligence and memory are intact and he quickly comes to suspect his creator’s involvement in his beloved’s death as well as his own false conviction. The black magic employed in the creature’s reanimation leave Friedrich powerless to exact revenge on his enemy. Friedrich is not the only innocent victim to be ensnared in Frankenstein’s web. Something even more sinister and disturbing is planned in an abandoned castle in a remote mountainous region south of Geneva. Friedrich’s remaining humanity is called into question as he struggles with whether to intervene or be complacent with the sordid plans of Frankenstein and the evil Marquis de Sade.

 

Monster is a gripping gothic horror tale, brilliantly told. Zeltserman is an accomplished author of mystery, horror and noir. He has earned the Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen's Readers' Choice awards and could very well be on track to another winner with Monster.

 

Jeanne

categories:

 
 

Make it Work

Make it Work

posted by:
September 27, 2012 - 6:03am

Project Runway: The Show That Changed HistoryTim Gunn's Fashion BibleProject Runway is wrapping up its tenth season, and this landmark program featuring aspiring fashion designers is as popular today as when it first started. In the first full-color program guide, Project Runway: The Show That Changed History, all nine seasons are represented. Featuring hundreds of pictures of the hosts, designers, fashions, and more, this is the ultimate fan source. In addition to the photographs, there are highlights of seasons past, and interviews with designers, stars, and judges. Go behind the scenes of a television and fashion institution and learn how the show began and evolved over the years, and discover what some of the fan favorites are up to today. Enjoy commentary from host Heidi Klum throughout, as well as interviews with the behind-the-scenes crew and producers, top designers, judges, and of course, Tim Gunn.

 

And speaking of Mr. Gunn, Project Runway’s mentor and fan favorite offers a fashion-related title in Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible:The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet. Gunn is also the chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne and a former faculty member and chair of fashion design at Parsons' New School for Design. He shares his impressive fashion knowledge and presents an exhaustive history of clothing and accessory. From suits to sportswear, jeans to Crocs, Gunn surveys Western fashion and recounts the contributions to the way we dress and accessorize, and highlights revolutionary designers. In tracing the origin of our closets, Gunn combines his trademark sense of humor with a personable tone. This comprehensive volume not only informs, but serves as a reminder that while fashion is about fun and innovation, the quickly changing dynamics and fickle consumers lead to designers being in one day and out the next.

Maureen

 
 

Tommy Gun in a Black Violin Case

Gangster SquadPaul Lieberman’s Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles brings a new mob story to light. In the 1940s, L.A. officials were extremely concerned about gangster crime, so they created a new off-the-books squad of eight officers to combat mob crime called the Gangster Squad. The squad’s members were still listed on the rosters of their old stations. They had no office; they operated out of two old Fords and met in parking lots and on street corners. They made no arrests, handing cases off to homicide, robbery, or vice. Each squad member was assigned his own Tommy gun, which one squad member was known to keep under his bed in a black violin case. The gangster squad’s goal was to make life difficult for mob criminals. Since they were a shadow group, they didn’t bother with warrants. They bugged everything from television sets to a mobster’s mistress’s bed to gain intelligence on their targets.

 

Local gangster Mickey Cohen was one of the squad’s major foes. Pursuing Cohen was an obsession for Sergeants Jerry Wooters and Jack O’Mara, two very different men whose only common goal was taking down Cohen. Their separate plans to catch Cohen collided one night in 1959 at Rondelli’s restaurant in a shooting that resulted in the death of Jack “The Enforcer” Whalen. The fallout from that night brought this chapter in L.A.’s history to a close. Lieberman’s journalism background is evident in the way that he tells the story. He did extensive research and interviewed surviving members of both the squad and the mob. If this sounds like a story made for the big screen, it is. Gangster Squad will be coming to a theater near you. The film, which stars Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn, arrives in theaters in January 2013.

Beth

 
 

Catonsville Confidential

Catonsville Confidential

posted by:
September 26, 2012 - 7:11am

The Secret TreeAraminta (Minty) Fresh lives in the familiar setting of Catonsville in The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford. Growing up in a close-knit neighborhood with her best friend Paz on the same block, she is happy and comfortable with her friends, family, and roller derby. But the summer before middle school is a season for change, not the least of which is Paz’s apparent desire to befriend some cool girls. 

 

When she spots a flash in the woods and chases it, Minty not only finds a new friend in Raymond, but also stumbles across the Secret Tree. The elm has a hollow trunk in which Raymond and Minty find secrets written on slips of paper. The notes hold confidences which range from crushes, to being held back a grade, to placing a curse on an enemy! Seems like her neighborhood is full of secrets and mysteries and Minty and Raymond decide to start finding some answers.

 

But this detecting duo has secrets of their own, and as they investigate friends and neighbors they must each deal with their own anxieties. Minty is a delightfully relatable yet quirky heroine with the right touch of tween snark to make her real. In the end, this story of changing friendships and pesky sibling relationships is about growing up and realizing that everyone has insecurities. Filled with the warmth and freedom of summer and a neighborhood full of unique characters, this imaginative coming-of-age story has an old-fashioned charm which will have wide appeal.

 

Be sure to look for Natalie at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 29th at 5:30, where she’ll be appearing as a member of the panel, "Baltimore Bred", with fellow Baltimore natives Adam Gidwitz, Laurel Snyder, C. Alexander London, and Laura Resau to talk about how growing up in Baltimore influenced their work.

Maureen