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Todd

A native Midwesterner, Todd has lived in the Baltimore area for over seven years, and has quickly taken to Maryland's local history and cuisine. His reading interests are varied, though he has a soft spot for books for teens. From his desk in the Collection Development department, he sees many more titles and reviews of books than he is able to read, but tries to focus on some of his other favored topics: graphic novels, science & nature, history, and travel memoirs.

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Bloggers

 

Who She Used to Be

Cover art for When We Were on FireBlogger, mom and wife, and, in her own words, “recovering Jesus Freak,” Addie Zierman writes the story of her evangelical adolescence and young adulthood in When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. Raised by parents who belonged to an evangelical church, Addie caught “fire” in her sophomore year of high school when she and her friends became devout Christians, first joining and then creating their own Bible study group at their high school. These were the 1990s, the days of WWJD?, mission trips to save lost souls and contemporary Christian pop music.

 

Divided into four sections, Zierman provides the reader with a glimpse into the mind of a young evangelical woman who believes she knows the path that her God has put forth. Pressing her along this journey is Chris, a young man three years older, who seems to Addie to have it all figured out. But as she eventually realizes, nothing she does is holy enough for Chris while he is in his own state of “fire,” and they part on bad terms. This breakup points Zierman toward her disillusionment with her beliefs; nonetheless, she enrolls in a conservative Christian college in the Twin Cities. She meets the love of her life, Andrew, who shares Addie’s propensity for standing out from the rest of their classmates. After their marriage, failed attempts to find a church that has everything they’re looking for results in her rebellion against everything. This includes forays into alcohol abuse, a minor infidelity and previously undiagnosed depression. Ultimately, she finds redemption in creating a spiritual center that is right for herself and her family.

 

Conversationally composed, with very little religious jargon that might bother the casual reader, When We Were on Fire is an exceptional memoir. Relatable to anyone who has ever become fixated on a topic, whether it involves matters of faith, a romantic interest or otherwise, Addie Zierman’s work makes her a writer to watch.

Todd

 
 

You Will Never Be Younger Than You Are Today

Sex & Violence by Carrie MesrobianHarrowing and piercingly realistic, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a tour de force of contemporary teen fiction. Nominated for a 2014 William C. Morris Award for best debut of a book for young adults, this is the story of Evan, a disaffected 17-year-old who has been raised solely by his workaholic father since his mother’s death years earlier. Though clever and handsome, Evan and his father have moved so often that his connection to peers is limited. Evan uses his perpetual new-guy status to bed “left-of-normal” girls, including Collette, a teen who used to date one of Evan’s classmates at the boarding school they attend. When their relationship is discovered, Evan and Collette are brutally assaulted, and his father (at last realizing the seriousness of the situation) moves them to a cottage on a lake in Minnesota, near where Evan’s parents grew up.

 

After a long physical recuperation, Evan works to pick up the pieces of his shattered psyche. Through a therapist’s help, he slowly confronts the PTSD that he has been experiencing. He meets a group of teens, many of whom are spending their last summer at the lake before heading off to college, and they quickly add him to their group. The summer brings romance, friendship and unexpected turns for Evan, growing into a person his pre-assault version never knew had been inside him. Mesrobian deftly handles a number of themes, among them, the uneasy manner in which Evan approaches sex, the eventual fallout between Evan and his father, the highs and lows of casual drug use and how delicately trust can be won and lost. She weaves these into a concise package that is dark, with no easy answers, but is also not hopeless.   

 

The author does a phenomenal job getting the voices right, most remarkably that of Evan. The teens, all of whom are well-drawn, are written with pitch-perfect dialogue, and there are few wasted words. Mesrobian’s well-crafted debut novel is a brutally honest work for older teens from an author with loads of potential.

Todd

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How Soon Was Then?

Morrissey AutobiographyNever hesitant to state his strong opinion and create controversy, Morrissey has been a lightning rod since he burst onto the scene as The Smiths’ frontman in the 1980s. Now, with Autobiography, he sets his record straight on the many phases of his life and recording career. Whether or not you find him a hopelessly depressing poseur or are a longtime fan and follower (there really is little middle ground!), this stream-of-consciousness memoir will be of interest to most anyone who listened to the music of the era.

 

Starting with his Manchester childhood and school days, the singer outlines his life through memories that are by turns gauzy and pointed. He shows a surprisingly tight relationship with his family, and includes the tragic deaths of relatives and friends, many of which have seemingly affected his songwriting and have haunted him to this day. Much of the book, naturally, focuses on the many people who Morrissey feels have wronged him. The much-heralded rift between him and his Smiths writing partner Johnny Marr is fairly minor compared to the vitriol Morrissey retains for Mike Joyce, former Smiths drummer, and the British judge that ruled in Joyce’s favor when it came to recording royalties. The usual suspects such as the English music press, the monarchy, Margaret Thatcher, radio DJs, etc. are also the recipients of his bitterness.

 

While there are no chapters or other breaks in his memoir, it reads quickly. Regarding his personal life, he doesn’t directly address his ambiguous sexuality, and the encounters he has with various celebrities are more interesting than mere name-dropping. He places a focus on the constant touring and the fans more than on his songwriting and records produced. By turns heartbreaking, intriguing, frustrating and peppered with Morrissey’s well-known wit, there is no doubt that Autobiography is a product solely his own – no ghostwriters here.

Todd

 
 

Cookie Tray Showstoppers

Cookie Tray Showstoppers

posted by:
December 18, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for European CookiesIt’s cookie-baking season again and there are a number of places to look for new recipes to add to your repertoire. A new book from Krisztina Maksai, European Cookies for Every Occasion, takes on old-world favorites with a contemporary twist. Focused specifically on the sweet treats of Central Europe, Maksai’s conversational introductions to each recipe are a good counterpoint to the clear, all-business side of the techniques used as she creates each of the morsels. Clearly coming from a 21st century perspective, she indicates the value of using organic ingredients (such as lemon zest) and her concern over artificial dyes.

 

This is a gorgeous cookbook full of excellent step-by-step photographs explaining the process of making each cookie. The book is broken into four main sections, starting with Quick and Easy, then Moderately Easy, Moderately Difficult and, finally, Challenging Cookies. Also included is a short list of essential baking tools and an introduction of how Maksai became the baker she is today. In it, she explains the importance of tasting various dark chocolates to select the right one for the application, and also describes why using a double-boiler may not be the best choice for melting chocolate.

 

Cookie ingredients that are particularly popular in Europe make numerous appearances in the book, such as various jams, marzipan and poppy seeds. Maksai was born in Romania, moved to Germany as a child but grew up in Hungary. Since then, she has lived in Austria, the United States and Hungary once again. This blend of cultures is evident in the cookies she highlights within this elegant cookbook. Krisztina Maksai’s YouTube channel even includes a video of her constructing a stained glass gingerbread house which includes a smoking chimney!

Todd

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Dino-mite!

Dino-mite!

posted by:
December 11, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled Cover art for Tracking TyranosaursCover art for The Greatest Dinosaur EverThree new books take on the perennial favorite topic of dinosaurs, but with new information being discovered all the time, adults as well as kids will find themselves learning – or relearning – about these fascinating creatures from the past.  

 

Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh focuses on the new developments in paleontology with regard to the outward appearance of dinosaurs. She teams with a group of six acclaimed paleoartists who have worked with museums, movie studios and magazines to properly depict dinosaurs based on the latest research. This includes the discoveries made in the past two decades of the existence of feathers on many dinosaurs. The author, a Sibert medalist, explains in kid-friendly terminology how scientists have come to current conclusions, and how each future discovery could change their minds.

 

In Tracking Tyrannosaurs: Meet T. rex’s Fascinating Family, from Tiny Terrors to Feathered Giants, Christopher Sloan discusses the many other tyrannosaurs that lived in the Mesozoic Era among their more well-known cousin Tyrannosaurus rex. This National Geographic production features the publisher’s usual excellent art. Graphs and timelines help explain when each of these tyrannosaurs lived, and sidebars discuss the theories that paleontologists have regarding their close relationship to the birds of today. Particularly clear is the explanation of the simultaneous eras of the dinosaurs and the breakup of supercontinent Pangaea resulting in the continents that now exist.

 

For younger readers deciding on a favorite, The Greatest Dinosaur Ever by Brenda Z. Guiberson contains many options. Gennady Spirin’s double-page oil paint on paper illustrations are in soft but clear colors. Each dinosaur explains the reasons (huge claws, best parent, club-like tail, etc.) as to why it is the greatest dinosaur ever. Sure to spark debate among dino-loving youngsters, there is really no right or wrong selection. The author also focuses on a number of bird-like dinosaurs, again showing the relationship between the “terrible lizards” of long ago and the feathered creatures of today.

Todd

 
 

Barbara Park, 1947-2013

Barbara Park, 1947-2013

posted by:
November 18, 2013 - 11:36am

Cover art for Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly BusBarbara Park, bestselling author of the beloved Junie B. Jones series, among other children’s books, passed away on Friday at the age of 66 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. The series Park was best known for followed the irrepressible Junie B. and her kindergarten (and later first grade) classmates as they encountered everyday situations that vex the average 5- or 6-year-old. Starting with Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, these books have entertained countless first-time readers. Aside from activity books and other related Junie B. material, Park published 28 Junie B. Jones titles.

 

Beyond Junie B., Park also excelled at writing other children’s books. Two of her best-known have been contemporary classics since their publication. Skinnybones follows the smallest kid on his baseball team who unfortunately also has the biggest mouth. For older kids, the tragic story Mick Harte Was Here covers the aftermath of a sister coping with the biking death of her brother. Acclaimed author Judy Blume was among the many who, over the weekend, spoke about Park’s enduring legacy, stating that some of Junie B.’s admirers confused the two: "I'd always say, 'I didn't write them, but I wish I had."

Todd

 
 

For All the Saints

Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the CatacombsArt historian Paul Koudounaris has developed a grotesque but incredibly interesting research niche as he uncovers Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. In this, the follow-up to his 2011 Coup de Coeur award-winning Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, Koudounaris continues to delve deep into the centuries-old mystery of the veneration and bejeweling of full skeletons and individual bones of Christian “saints” in Europe. In the past, the relics have made their appearances only once a year at festivals, but the author was granted unprecedented access to examine and photograph these unique marvels.  

 

Beginning in the early middle ages, the remains of various Christian martyrs were buried in the Roman catacombs. Long forgotten, the skeletons filled the underground passages until the era of the Protestant Reformation. In the late 1500s through the following century, many Catholic churches were looking for relics that would help to invigorate their parishioners to remain devoted. These churches, mostly in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, were sent authenticated bones from The Vatican with official documentation identifying them as having belonged to early Christian martyrs. In the intervening years, many of these unofficial saints have been “decanonized” by Roman Catholic officials.

 

Individual examples and stories of the relics and the stunning manner that they are displayed make up the bulk of this fascinating look at the crossroads of religion, art and history. Sumptuous photographs of the artifacts in all their dazzling glory, including a breathtaking double-page spread of the “Chapel of Bones” at the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, complete this unique volume.

Todd

 
 

More Than a Smile and a Wagging Tail

Devouted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty and Life with DogsDogs have become ubiquitous in American society. Their physical abilities and emotional connections with humans have been studied and marveled about for generations, no moreso than today. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh has now compiled a collection of short vignettes celebrating the human-canine connection in Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty and Life with Dogs. Handsomely illustrated with candid photographs of the dogs and the humans with whom they share their lives, this is a perfect book to dip in and out of as time permits.

 

While some of the two- to four-page stories are, perhaps, more “extraordinary” than others, it is likely that readers will find themselves smiling, tearing up or both as the connection between dog and man is recounted. Some of the amazing stories include dogs that have bravely served the military both in the theatre of war and with veterans back on the home front. Other pieces involve therapy dogs, including those that serve as lifesaving alarms for people who suffer from blood sugar fluctuations and those dogs who provide comfort to humans dealing with mental or emotional trauma. Still more feature canines that have come to the rescue in crisis situations, sometimes almost unbelievably, saving their human companions through intelligence and will.

 

Short blurbs about the breed of dog showcased and other information related to the story round out each article. A list of resources to learn more about organizations that support these incredible feats and encourage better dog welfare is also included. Its handy, easy-to-hold trim size and heartwarming accounts will make Devoted a sure favorite with animal lovers young and old.

Todd

 
 

Michael Palmer 1942-2013

Michael Palmer 1942-2013

posted by:
October 31, 2013 - 3:43pm

Cover art for The SisterhoodCover art for ResistantBest-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.

 

Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
 

Todd

 
 

Cat Cavalcade

Cat Cavalcade

posted by:
October 17, 2013 - 7:00am

Hello Kitty: Here We Go! cover artMr. Wuffles! cover artTwo very different cats play lead roles in new largely wordless books for young readers. International feline superstar Hello Kitty makes her graphic novel debut in Hello Kitty: Here We Go! by Jacob Chabot. After a quick introduction to her friends and family, HK’s global adventures begin. Making her way through locations real and imaginary, the jet-setting cat finds new friends, exciting places to explore and strange new creatures to assist her along her path. Each short vignette features Hello Kitty charming her way to adventure, fun and happiness.

 

Multiple Caldecott-winning author/illustrator David Wiesner’s new picture book centers on a tuxedo cat with the completely opposite mood from Hello Kitty. The amusingly misnamed black-and-white feline Mr. Wuffles! is a curmudgeonly creature with no interest in the toys that his owner brings him. Until suddenly, a new toy appears in Mr. Wuffles’ world – that of a small spaceship commanded by a group of tiny green aliens. Wiesner’s ability to realistically illustrate the movements of a lazy cat who suddenly becomes interested in the visitors is remarkable. The aliens’ ship is in need of repair after being batted around and chomped by Mr. Wuffles. They receive aid from an unexpected group of under-the-radiator insects who have also been terrified by the cat. Ant, ladybug and alien “speak” to each other through art to assist each in mystifying their feline tormentor and concocting an escape for the otherworldly creatures. In this short video, David Wiesner introduces Mr. Wuffles! and his artistic process.

 

Lovable each in their own way, these two furry, whiskered cats bring their adventures in paneled, graphic novel format, introducing young readers to visual literacy and expanding their imaginations.

Todd