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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Alex Herzberg

Alex Herzberg is always on the lookout for books with strong, emotional stories and compelling characters. His favorite areas are literary fiction, adult graphic novels, and memoirs, and the awesome world of teen fiction. His other interests include videogames, reality television, and movies.

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Literary Gifts

Literary Gifts

posted by:
December 6, 2012 - 8:05am

The Books They Gave MeMany of us can remember receiving a life-changing book and the story behind it. Maybe it was a childhood birthday present, a memento from a failed relationship, an impulse buy, a bequest from a late relative, or a suggestion from a favorite teacher. Whatever the reason, the ways in which these special books enter our lives can often be as powerful as the books themselves. The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit, based on editor Jen Adams’ blog of the same name, chronicles over two hundred anonymous anecdotes about the books we give one another and why.

 

These candid submissions – with themes ranging from “How did she know?” to “What was he thinking?!” – celebrate the humorous, profound, and sometimes disastrous connections that our lives make through literature. A good number of the stories focus on breakups, but the collection never feels dull thanks to the constant stream of different voices and experiences. In fact, this charming, accessible little book can easily be read in one sitting. For those looking for further reading, this collection doubles as an extensive book list, cataloging a variety of classic novels, memoirs, poetry, self-help guides, and even dictionaries. Color illustrations of each featured title provide appealing visuals from beginning to end. The Books They Gave Me is a bibliophile’s dream and encourages readers to reflect upon their own treasured books. As one contributor beautifully puts it, “I believe that giving a book to a person is like giving a piece of your soul to them.”

Alex

 
 

Adventure Comes Knocking

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual CompanionThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie GuideTolkien fans, it’s time to travel back to Middle-earth. The first installment in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Hobbit film trilogy is almost here, and the library has two exciting tie-in volumes just in time for the December 14 release. These stylish books complement each other perfectly and will be sure to delight. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual Companion begins with a charming foreword by Bilbo Baggins (actor Martin Freeman), and offers an introductory sneak peek at the film’s story. Everything you need to know about hobbits, wizards, dwarves, and elves is here, along with a visual tour of Bilbo’s home of Bag End among other locations. The centerpiece of this book is a detailed fold-out map of Middle-earth, which charts the company’s journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain. Beautiful color photos on almost every page immerse readers into Tolkien’s iconic fantasy universe.

     

For a behind-the-scenes look at the new film, turn to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie Guide. This book is bursting with details about every aspect of the film’s production. One fascinating section explores the “breakdown” department, where artists use sandpaper and even blowtorches to make the once-pristine costumes appear aged and worn. Exclusive interviews with the cast and crew are interspersed between the more technical chapters, a touch that keeps the book’s pace fresh and lively. Fans of The Lord of the Rings films will be happy to see that most of the creative team has returned for The Hobbit. Actor Andy Serkis steps behind the camera this time as second unit director, in addition to reprising his role of the tragic creature Gollum.

 

Alex

 
 

Memories of War

Memories of War

posted by:
August 28, 2012 - 9:20am

The Yellow BirdsDebut author Kevin Powers takes us to the Iraq War and back in his poignant novel The Yellow Birds. Narrating from a secluded cabin in the mountains of Virginia, twenty-one-year-old veteran John Bartle recalls his hellish experiences in Iraq’s Nineveh Province and his current struggles to rebuild a life ravaged by post-traumatic stress.

 

Private Bartle’s story begins in basic training, where he quickly befriends an eighteen-year-old recruit named Murphy. They become inseparable, and Bartle takes it on himself to protect Murphy and get him back home safely. But once they arrive in war-torn Iraq, these two young soldiers discover that neither is ready to face the physical and psychological battles yet to come. What unfolds is a testament to friendship and loss set against the horrors of war, as well as a moving portrayal of how war affects not just soldiers but also their families and friends at home.

 

Powers, an Iraq veteran himself and recent M.F.A. graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, has the voice of a poet and wrote The Yellow Birds largely based on his own war experiences. Early praise from authors like Colm Toibin and Ann Patchett hails this novel as a “superb literary achievement” and proclaims it a modern classic. In fact, New York Times bestselling author Chris Cleave has compared Powers to Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy for his use of spare, lyrical prose.

 

Rich with flashbacks, metaphors, and written in a stream-of-consciousness style, The Yellow Birds will stay with you long after the final page. Readers who enjoy this new novel may also want to try Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and Fobbit by David Abrams, two equally wonderful stories that take a satirical spin on the Iraq War.

 

Alex

categories:

 
 

Supercharged Sci-Fi

Supercharged Sci-Fi

posted by:
August 7, 2012 - 8:00am

AmpedWhat if you could instantly make yourself smarter, faster, and stronger? In the near-future world of Amped by Daniel H. Wilson, people can do just that. Scientists have created a brain implant called the Neural Autofocus, a tiny computer chip that upgrades normal human abilities. This “amp” is a miracle cure for people with learning disabilities, vision impairments, and certain disorders, but the rest of society is worried that this technology blurs the line between human and superhuman. The nation becomes divided and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court decides that amped individuals are not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, thus stripping them of their civil rights. 

 

On the day of this landmark ruling, we meet twenty-nine-year-old teacher Owen Gray. Owen has had an amp in his brain since childhood to control his seizures, but he soon discovers that the technology inside his head holds a dangerous military secret. Now Owen is on the run and takes refuge in rural Oklahoma, where he finds a trailer park haven for fellow “amps” and meets an ex-soldier named Lyle Crosby. Lyle was part of an experimental military group of superhuman amps, and he wants Owen to join their ranks to fight back against a fear-mongering senator and his anti-amp organization called the Pure Human Citizen’s Council. Owen wants to help, but first he has to unlock his hidden talents that make him question what it means to be human.

 

As with last year’s hit Robopocalypse (soon to be a Steven Spielberg film), Amped explores current issues like bigotry and the slippery slope of digital technology. Wilson holds advanced degrees in robotics and artificial intelligence, so he is definitely in his element with this startling and action-packed technothriller. If you enjoy fast-paced science fiction, Amped promises to be one of the most exciting books you’ll read this summer!

 

Alex

 
 

The Habit of Art

The Habit of Art

posted by:
July 26, 2012 - 7:49am

Flannery O'Connor: The CartoonsIf you like American short stories, chances are you’ve read Flannery O’Connor, whose biting sense of humor, peculiar characters, and hauntingly redemptive tales have made her one of America’s most celebrated writers. But did you know that before she wrote fiction, O’Connor had originally set out to be a cartoonist? The new book Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons explores this iconic author’s lesser-known talent and brings her illustrations together for the very first time.

 

O’Connor began drawing at the early age of five and went on to make cartoons for her high school and college newspapers. These cartoons, with their quirky, almost grotesque style and spot-on commentary about student life in the early 1940s, made O’Connor something of a local celebrity at her Georgia college. Those who have read O’Connor’s classic short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find or her 1962 novel Wise Blood will love seeing her trademark humor on display in these early drawings. In one cartoon, two students dance joyfully hand-in-hand while the caption below reads, “These two express the universal feeling of heart-brokenness over school closing.” In another, a lone bespectacled young woman (clearly meant to be the author herself) watches her popular classmates dance at a college social and says to the reader, “Oh well, I can always be a Ph.D.” These speak to O’Connor’s knack for carefully observing the world around her, a process she once described as the habit of art.

 

In addition to a handsomely presented gallery, Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons also features an essay delving into the author’s life and eventual transition to writing fiction. This interesting book has great appeal for O’Connor fans and anyone who enjoys satirical cartoons.  

 

Alex

 
 

Move Over, Holden

Kasher in the RyeIn Moshe Kasher’s new memoir Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16, the stand-up comic chronicles his renegade, drug-addicted adolescence in California during the early ’90s with a careful balance of humor and painful honesty.

 

Following his difficult childhood – the challenge of having two deaf parents, starting therapy sessions when he was just six years old, and being dragged by his mother on a “vacation” to California that ends up being more like abduction – Kasher feels hopelessly broken and lost. He finds it impossible to fit in at his Oakland public school, so he gets involved with the wrong crowd and starts a downward spiral of gang violence, theft, vandalism, and drug use, all before he is even old enough to drive. It isn’t until several near-death experiences and three stays at a children’s psychiatric hospital that Kasher finally decides to turn his life around. But even with his new determination, how can he learn to break this tragic cycle if a life of confusion, anger, and self-destruction is all he knows?

 

Moshe Kasher manages to tell his story in a way that’s hilarious and heartbreaking without ever becoming sentimental. The anecdotes he tells of his wayward youth will have readers laughing at the ridiculousness of it all while rooting for Kasher throughout his journey. If you are a fan of David Sedaris’ essays or Bill Clegg’s memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, you will find much to enjoy in this honest, funny, and redemptive true story.

 

 

Alex

 
 

Coming of Age, with a Graphic Twist

The Year of the BeastsIn the format-bending new teen novel The Year of the Beasts, we meet fifteen-year-old Tessa and her younger sister Lulu. The two have always been close, until one summer when Lulu starts dating town heartthrob Charlie – who just so happens to be Tessa’s biggest crush. Tessa wants to be happy for Lulu, but for the first time in her life she begins to feel bitter pangs of jealousy toward her sister. Fortunately, Tessa develops an unexpected romance of her own with the mysterious but sweet outcast Jasper and learns to appreciate the unconditional bond she shares with Lulu. 

 

Meanwhile, every other chapter picks up Tessa’s story several weeks later in graphic novel form, where we gradually learn that a tragedy has changed the characters’ lives forever. In a striking counterpoint to author Cecil Castellucci’s realistic prose, Eisner Award-winning illustrator Nate Powell re-imagines Tessa and her friends as mythological creatures such as medusas, centaurs, minotaurs, and mermaids. At first it isn’t exactly clear how the graphic and prose chapters relate, but everything merges so brilliantly in the end that readers will want to explore the book a second time to discover the cleverly placed foreshadowing and symbolism. Rather than being two separate narratives, these alternating chapters build off of each other to form one emotionally powerful story.

 

The Year of the Beasts is a poignant novel about sibling conflict, grief, and young love. The alternating prose-and-visual storytelling makes this book utterly unique and an excellent choice for reluctant readers or those looking for their first foray into graphic novels.

Alex

 
 

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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Mad, Mad World

Mad Men on the Couch The Unofficial Mad Men CookbookThe Real Mad Men

Have you wondered what it would be like to live in the advertising world depicted on AMC’s award-winning drama series Mad Men?  Former copywriter Andrew Cracknell gives us an inside look with The Real Mad Men:The Renegades of Madison Avenue and the Golden Age of Advertising.Reneg  

Written from firsthand experience and featuring beautiful photographs from the era, this book explores the history of modern American advertising, the movers and shakers of the industry, and how the “golden age” business culture of the 1960s treated women and minorities.  This title has great appeal for fans of Mad Men, as well as anyone with an interest in advertising. 

 

For a more psychological take on the show, try Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of the Men and Women of the Hit TV Show.  Author Dr. Stephanie Newman delves into the minds of each main character and discusses issues like sexism, identity, parenting, and homophobia through a modern lens.  And don’t worry about psychological jargon – Newman employs a light and accessible tone.  This highly recommended title is as informative as it is entertaining and makes each character come to life.      

 

And just for fun, check out The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars and Restaurants of Mad Men by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin.  This fully illustrated book highlights many of the meals and cocktails seen on the first four seasons of the show, along with brief episode summaries that place each recipe in its historical context.  The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook is a must-read for any serious Mad Men fan.

Alex