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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Meghan Menon

Meghan Menon has the happy fortune to work at the Cockeysville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library in the capacity of librarian. Her reading interests are tremendously varied and are influenced by patron recommendations. Among the genres she holds dearest to her literary heart are children's fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery and meticulously well-researched historical fiction. When not tucking into the latest children's fiction or a well-thumbed copy of Pratchett, Fforde or Wodehouse, Meghan indulges other interests such as a hopeless obsession with ancestry.com, hunting for additions to her art collection, and improvising (mostly) delicious recipes with her husband. Her career as a librarian is the culmination of one of her greatest wishes and she takes joy in providing readers' advisory to patrons from toddlers to adults, in person and through "Between the Covers."

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Pandas and Tigers and Wolves, Oh My!

Pandas and Tigers and Wolves, Oh My!

posted by:
August 28, 2014 - 8:00am

The Hybrid TigerFrom panda parents to tiger moms and wolf dads, prescription parenthood has gained a toehold in our culture. And it’s little wonder. In a world of increasingly global competition, it’s understandable that today’s parents question whether the way they were raised is an effective model for the next generation.

 

Some authors have sought to capitalize on this cultural anxiety, confirming fears of parental inadequacy and boldly prescribing a veritable menagerie of methods for ensuring the success of our children. Perhaps the most controversial of these is Amy Chua, who’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which outlined what she termed “Chinese parenting,” caused a stir across the country.

 

Now, in The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids, Quanyu Huang presents a gentler, less abrasive analysis of the differences between Chinese and American parenting.

 

As a product of Chinese education and culture himself as well as the parent of a child raised in America, Huang presents a uniquely balanced perspective on the subject. Acknowledging the undeniable academic success of Asian and Asian-American children, he also draws attention to the post-academic success of many adult products of the American experience, who seem to “catch up” in the college years. Instead of ascribing to an either/or model, Huang advocates “co-core synergy education;” a compromise between the Asian style of parenting and the American.

 

Huang’s premise is an interesting one and bears reflection. If The Hybrid Tiger has one flaw, it is that the text occasionally suffers in its execution, feeling at times a little awkward. Huang’s samples of questions from Chinese/American parents feel a little forced and seem to function as a platform for his own interpretation of what these parents should be asking rather than as actual examples of questions he’s encountered from either set. Nevertheless, the overall message is a unifying and commonsensical one emphasizing parental involvement in academic discipline without sacrificing socialization and creativity.

 

Readers who enjoy The Hybrid Tiger may also enjoy The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids–Without Turning into a Tiger by Shimi Kang.

Meghan

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Magic and Memory: A Tale of Two Tricksters

Cover art for The ConfabulistMartin sits in a doctor’s office.

 

He experiences disquiet bordering on irritation as the doctor laboriously details the characteristics of his diagnosis. Later, his mind drifts and he is relieved from the intolerable present by the welcome intrusion of a memory. That picnic from a summer’s day so long ago; the hum of the bees, the drone of his parents’ languid conversation; the soft edges of a single cotton ball cloud scudding overhead. It is a memory worth keeping, even if it never happened.

 

He sighs. It’s been getting more difficult to know the difference these days….

 
Martin’s recollection of the past is changing. Increasingly, confabulations are taking the place of his real memories, and he knows it won’t be long before the truth of what happened in the distant past is lost. But what is truth and what is illusion? What happens when the line separating the two becomes permeable? In The Confabulist, Steven Galloway plays with these questions as he explores the fateful connection between the humble Martin Strauss and Harry Houdini, the greatest illusionist who ever lived.

 

Like so many illusions up the magician’s sleeve, The Confabulist is replete with misdirection and second guesses. From the first pages, Galloway puts us on notice that the narrator cannot be implicitly trusted. The story that follows is therefore as much a game of detective work for the reader as it is a work of historical fiction. Galloway’s skillful interplay between past and present, confabulation and real memory, will keep the reader speculating throughout the intertwining tales.

 

Readers who enjoy Galloway’s treatment of the themes of memory and Victorian spiritualism may also enjoy Emma Healy’s debut novel Elizabeth is Missing.
 

Meghan

 
 

Steam and Grime in Victorian Times

catalog.bcpl.lib.md.us/polaris/search/searchresults.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.6&type=Default&term=Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times&by=KW&sort=MP&limit=TOM=*&query=&page=0London:
 

Ten-year-old Jack Foster has never been the center of his parents’ universe. Spending much of the year at boarding school, Jack’s infrequent trips home to smog-choked Victorian London are fraught with awkwardness, boredom and his own guilty anticipation of returning to school.
 

So when on one visit home Jack spies Mr. Havelock, his mother’s mysterious new spiritualist, opening a door where no earthly door should be, he jumps at the chance for adventure and follows...
 

Londinium:
 

...into a magical world that so closely mimics our own, the line between what is mechanical, what is magical and what is alive has long been blurred. Here the air is thick with smoke, and many residents are obliged to wear goggles and nostril grills to shield them from the noxious atmosphere. Whole, flesh-and-blood children are rare and prized by Londinium’s ruler: the Lady. Now, the Lady requires a new, perfect son and she’s set her sights on Jack.
 

As keen as he was for adventure, Jack isn’t so sure he’s ready to be adopted, and the Lady’s previous son, Mr. Havelock (aka Sir Lorcan), isn’t happy about being replaced. This new world is not without friends though, including Beth, a wind-up doll with an attitude, and Dr. Snailwater, the scientist who created her. If Jack wants to escape back to his own world, he’ll need the help of his new friends and that of the Gearwing, a powerful, mythical creature that no one has seen in years.
 

Emma Trevayne paints an atmospheric and eerily entrancing landscape in Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, her middle-grade steampunk debut. Boasting excellent world building, characteristic of the steampunk genre, gorgeous cover art and an independent protagonist with amusing supporting characters, Flights is best suited for younger middle-grade readers.
 

For all the narrative merit displayed in much of the story, Flights does suffer from some underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved plot devices. Among these weaker elements are the obscure motivations of the Lady in continually craving perfect, eternal sons in the first place, as well as the underdeveloped mythos of the Gearwing itself. As a standalone novel these flaws are prominent, however, in the larger context of a series (should Ms. Trevayne continue to expand Jack’s horizons) these shortcomings might be camouflaged.
 

Meghan

 
 

Little Truths About the Big Picture

Little Truths About the Big Picture

posted by:
October 25, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Truth of MeFrom Newbery Award-winner Patricia MacLachlan comes The Truth of Me, a new classic delivered in a deceptively simplistic format. Robbie — he hates to be called Robert — is the only child of two brilliant but distant musicians. He knows his parents care for him, but also that the music has and always will come first. Fortunately, Robbie is also the beloved grandchild of one very quirky lady...who just may have a special gift when it comes to communicating with wild animals.

 

Maddy may be a little unconventional as grandmothers go — she’s even been known to serve donuts for dinner — but to Robbie there could be none better. More than a grandmother, Maddy is Robbie’s best friend — well, apart from his dog, Ellie — and he always looks forward to the time they spend together. During the summer that his parents’ quartet is touring in Europe, Robbie’s stay with Maddy will open his eyes to new truths; about his grandmother, about his family and even about himself.

 

A poignant tale and understated to a fault, The Truth of Me is a story of the little truths about ourselves that help us see the big picture. On its surface, it's a simple portrait of a young boy, his grandmother and his dog. At its heart, it's a story of self-actualization and love. Recommended for thoughtful young readers and anyone who enjoys gentle teaching tales. Fans of Kevin Henkes’ Junonia, in particular, may be drawn to The Truth of Me.

Meghan

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The Page Runners

The Page Runners

posted by:
October 2, 2013 - 7:00am

House of SecretsNoted film director (Home Alone, Harry Potter) Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini serve up an action-packed adventure in House of Secrets. The Walker children, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor, have enjoyed a privileged childhood, but following an “incident” at the hospital where their father worked, the family has fallen on challenging times. Forced to relocate to San Francisco, the family happens upon a house that seems too good to be true. A grand old Victorian once owned by a famous author, the Kristoff House is offered at a fraction of its value. Enchanted, the Walkers quickly take up residence – but not for long.

 

The day of the move, a mysterious neighbor visits the household. Dahlia, the daughter of author Denver Kristoff, the original owner, seems friendly and harmless enough, but her exterior conceals the truly villainous nature of the Wind Witch. Soon enough, she has separated the children from their parents and cast them into the fantastical worlds of Kristoff’s books.

 

Left to fend for themselves in the mysterious realms of Kristoff’s fiction, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor must band together to make sense of their banishment and find a way to defeat the Wind Witch who has trapped them within the pages of her father’s works. Along the way, the children are alternately helped, hindered and betrayed by the characters they encounter.

 

This is a decidedly action-driven story and the precocious Walker children seldom experience a dull moment from the first time they lay eyes on the mysterious Kristoff House. Readers will find themselves similarly swept along for the ride. Though the cultural references in the dialogue may date the story before its time, today's kids will particularly enjoy the number of mentions of current popular media and electronic devices. 

Recommended for upper middle grade or young adult readers for somewhat mature content, House of Secrets will hold particular appeal for fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Meghan

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of Pi in the Sky

Cover art for Pi in the SkyFrom the author of Every Soul a Star comes a story that’s out of this world — literally! In Pi in the Sky, Wendy Mass weaves an imaginative tale of worlds colliding, and the rollercoaster adventure that results.
 

Joss is a seventh son. Not just any seventh son, but the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. Expecting a superhero, imbued with extraordinary powers and responsibilities? Guess again. Despite what you may have heard, being that special “seventh son” does not imbue you with any great powers or great responsibilities — even if your dad is the SOU. With six older brothers, the greatest responsibility Joss has ever held is delivering pies across The Realms to the Powers That Be.
 

That’s right; a glorified pie delivery boy.
 

Mind you, these aren’t ordinary pies, but more about that later...
 

To date, Joss’ life has revolved around going to school (even immortals need an education), hanging out with his best friend Kal and getting those pies delivered on time. Then one day, a girl from Earth winds up in The Realms after her planet has been obliterated and Joss’ whole world is thrown out of orbit. Upgraded from delivery boy to world architect, it’s up to Joss to somehow rebuild Earth with the help of the planet’s last human, Annika.
 

Pi in the Sky is a spirited fantasy of friendship, adventure and the awesome sciences that shape our world. It is a balanced story that is accessible and fun to read even as it incorporates some challenging concepts. The characters are relatable and the story is alternately playful and poignant. Chapters are headed by quotes from scientists and visionaries that succinctly capture the theme of the chapter to follow. Recommended for middle grade readers and, in particular, fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Meghan

 
 

A Gem of a Tale

A Gem of a Tale

posted by:
September 6, 2013 - 7:00am

The Hero's Guide to Storming the CastleWelcome back to the hilariously fractured fairy tale realm of Christopher Healy’s Thirteen Kingdoms. A good deal has happened since the adventures encountered in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and the four lovable Princes Charming are back for another caper in The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. When last we left the princes – Gustav, Liam, Duncan and Frederic – our noble heroes had just formed the League of Princes and had finally gained some recognition beyond the Prince Charming moniker. Now disaster once again looms on the horizon, and it’s up to the league to prevent a certain magical jewel from falling into villainous hands.

 

Despite having set the bar high with Saving Your Kingdom, Healy’s return to the Thirteen Kingdoms is as triumphant an extension of the story started in its predecessor as one could hope. The characters first introduced in Saving Your Kingdom begin to come into their own in this second helping of heroism. While the fast paced, catchy dialogue and imaginative scenarios still evoke plenty of chortles, the real strength of Storming the Castle lies in the progressive character development of the princes and their famed princess counterparts. Not without their flaws, each of these heroes and heroines have obstacles to overcome and a lot to learn about themselves along the way. Their distinctive personalities and developing friendships will leave the reader eager for the next in the series: The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, coming in spring 2014. Recommended for middle grade readers and above.

Meghan

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A Game of Papacy

A Game of Papacy

posted by:
August 22, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Blood & BeautyAs sumptuous and richly textured as the Renaissance age she resurrects, Blood and Beauty’s descriptive language beguiles the reader from the start, sweeping away the veils of a half a millennium to reveal the all too human nature of some of the papacy’s most notorious players: Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. From her first foray into the conclave of cardinals at the book’s opening, author Sarah Dunant hooks the reader, sparing none of the earthy details of Rodrigo’s physical surroundings and fostering no sense of reverence for the chasm of time separating the modern reader from historical figures. Instead, Blood and Beauty reads as though we are joining the author on the scene of a current event, as breathless with anticipation as the citizens waiting outside on that sweltering summer’s day.

 

Thoroughly researched, Dunant’s narration often lends the flavor of the objective journalist, parsing through the rumors and mystique of the Borgia legacy to hint at another layer of truth behind the real people and events as they bloomed to life. The scope of Durant’s task is ambitious. Contemporary and historical accounts of the Borgias suggest so intricate a web of deceit, power lust and manipulation that a sensationalist approach might all too easily have suggested itself to a writer.

 

Instead, Dunant refrains from judgment in her analysis, casting a more sympathetic portrayal of Lucrezia, and skillfully demonstrating the transformation of a teenage Cesare from a youth to the hardened, brutal character who would later inspire Machiavelli. The resulting multi-layered personalities prompt an altogether more subtle, nuanced interpretation of the infamous Borgia clan, rendering their story that much more compelling.

 

Recommended for those readers who favor a certain historicity in their narratives. Fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and any number of Sharon Kay Penman’s works will be drawn to Blood and Beauty.
 

Meghan

 
 

Arkham Academics

Arkham Academics

posted by:
August 6, 2013 - 1:39pm

Professor Gargoyle Charles GilmanThe Slither Sisters Charles GilmanLoosely based on the Cthulhu mythos of legendary author H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Gilman’s new “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” series begins with the story of Professor Gargoyle. Readers follow 12-year-old Robert Arthur’s first days in the new state-of-the-art Lovecraft Middle School. Sleek, environmentally friendly and boasting a library the size of a gymnasium, Lovecraft Middle is exactly where every student would want to be. Except Robert, that is.

 

Recently redistricted, Robert isn’t looking forward to being the new kid on the block at Lovecraft. It doesn’t help that the only other kid transferred from his old school is class bully, Glenn Torkells. From his first day, it’s obvious to Robert that something decidedly weird is going on. Dozens of rats leap out of the brand new lockers.  His science teacher, Professor Goyle, is beyond bizarre. And apart from a mysterious girl named Karina, the closest friend he’s made at the new school is a polycephalus rat.  

 

Even stranger events are on the horizon, though, and when gateways to another frightening dimension begin to open, Robert must ally with Glenn to unmask the true nature of Professor Goyle and save his new friends and classmates.

 

The series plot introduced in the first volume segues seamlessly from Professor Gargoyle’s tale to the second tale in the series, The Slither Sisters. After the mysterious disappearance – and sudden reappearance – of twins Sylvia and Sarah Price, Robert, Glenn and Karina begin to suspect that the monstrous forces of the Great Old Ones may be at work. When Sarah announces her candidacy for president of the student council, it’s up to the friends and some trusted teachers to thwart them.

 

Fans of creepy-yet-funny stories set in middle school, such as the Scary School and “My Teacher Is an Alien” series, will be drawn to Gilman’s “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” and may find they eagerly await the next monstrous adventure. Each of the first two volumes provide a tantalizing glimpse into the tale to follow. Recommended for middle grade readers, this absorbing, fast-paced series with finely detailed illustrations may hold particular appeal for boys. Readers already familiar with Lovecraft lore may also chuckle at some of the references to the realm that inspired Gilman.

Meghan

 
 

An Accident Driven Life

An Accident Driven Life

posted by:
July 25, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Amy Falls DownIn a time when it seems there are as many writers as readers, author Jincy Willett invites us to take a walk on the writing side. In Amy Falls Down, Willett explores the world of writing from the perspective of an author who, disgusted by the glut in the market and the deteriorating quality of published works, has quietly and contentedly donned a cloak of anonymity. Once regarded as a promising author, Amy Gallup now studiously avoids the publishing world, preferring to teach others the writing craft rather than join the in the fray.

 

Having never sought fame or popularity, whether for the content of her books or for the glorification of her own ego, the self-deprecating Amy adamantly refuses to write for salability over quality. Consequently, it has been over 30 years since the publication of her last novel, and Amy has been all but forgotten. However, in the wake of a freak encounter with a Norfolk Pine, a bird bath and a basset hound, all that carefully constructed anonymity will vanish and Amy will find herself forced to reassess her own abilities and forgotten ambition.

 

Amy Falls Down is a uniquely pensive novel, mirroring the often melancholy mood of its heroine. Apart from her notable encounter with a mischievous bird bath, this is a tale driven not so much by plot as by Amy’s own introspection and reflection on the events that have brought her to once again pursue her work and — by extension — her own understanding of identity. Amy’s unpretentious perspective combines with a wry, almost cynical, sense of humor and an appealing vulnerability to render this a story worth reading. Readers already familiar with Willett’s previous works may remember Amy from The Writing Class; however, the stories are independent and need not be read in order.

Meghan

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