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

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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A Season of Change

posted by: August 1, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for This One SummerCanadian cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki team up on This One Summer, a swirling, breathtaking graphic novel that recounts the time in a girl’s life when childhood innocence comes to a crashing end.  Rose, an only child, goes to cottage country north of Toronto every summer with her parents. There, they meet up with another neighbor family, including Windy, who has been Rose’s slightly younger playmate for years. Windy, too, is an only child, and the two find themselves quickly reacquainting and sharing their days together. But Rose’s adolescent leanings, coupled with tension between her parents, mean that this summer will be different.


Jillian Tamaki’s purple-blue ink illustrations perfectly capture the churning, confusing and sometimes somber moodiness that Rose endures as the events of the summer pass. From carefree days splashing in the lake and watching slasher DVDs with Windy to dealing with her parents’ marital breakdown, Rose’s progression is clearly defined. Her first crush, on a convenience store clerk (who has troubles all his own), is well-depicted in all its unrequited awkwardness. Mariko Tamaki’s words are equally effective, as many older teens and adults will see their own lives in the thoughts and actions of the young friends. Frank language and mature topics such as depression and pregnancy are handled carefully but without patronizing to the intended age of the readership. Particularly successful is the way the Tamakis choose to tell the tale — without judgment or outspoken morality. The bittersweet conclusion is open-ended and purposely lacking forced resolution, showing that adolescence — and life itself — is a continuum that will go on long past that one summer.


The War to End All Wars

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

Cover art for World War I: The Definitive Visual HistoryCover art for Dark InvasionCover art for The Harlem HellfightersToday marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the moment that set the history of the rest of the 20th century in motion. Believed at first to be a war that would take weeks or months to settle, the war dragged on for four long, tragic years until the armistice was signed in 1918. Many new titles have been written that bring a better understanding of this period and the catastrophe of the war.


R.G. Grant’s World War I: the Definitive Visual History, from Sarajevo to Versailles is a terrific introduction to many facets of the conflict. DK Publishing, partnering with the Smithsonian, brings manageable text and countless period photographs here to best explain the personalities, weapons and cultural artifacts of the time period. In The Long Shadow: The Legacy of the Great War in the Twentieth Century, David Reynolds discusses the ramifications of the war, and rethinks some of the theses that have become too-easy explanations for its causes and results. He also looks at its decades-long impact on the art and literary world and how it brought about Modernism. Howard Blum’s Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Tale in America is a fascinating tale of espionage and intrigue is. New York City and other American cities were targeted by German spies to discourage munitions and other supplies from going across the Atlantic to the Allied forces, long before United States troops became officially embroiled in the conflict itself.


Novels set in the time period are perennially popular, such as the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. Now, that series’ author, Jacqueline Winspear, returns with the elegiac and stunning The Care and Management of Lies. Two very different young women come together in the backdrop of the war that has taken away the men in their lives. And Max Brooks’ graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters is fiction rooted in the heroic tales of the famous African-American 369th Infantry Regiment who fought for France due to antiquated, racially-motivated rules within the American Expeditionary Forces.


A Doughboy's Best Friend

posted by: July 7, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for Stubby the War DogCover art for Sergeant StubbyTo commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I this summer, many new books have been and will continue to be released. They range from new analyses of battles, biographies of personalities of the era and wide-ranging assessments of how the ‘War to End All Wars’ set the history of the 20th and 21st century and its continuing conflicts in motion. A furry character study for young readers comes in Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog. As the United States was at last pulled into the war in 1917, a stray, brindle-colored Boston Bull Terrier wandered onto a soldiers’ training ground at Yale University. The soldiers all took a liking to this sweet, short-tailed dog, but none more than enlisted man James Conroy.


Training complete (for both men and dog), the soldiers were sent to sea, and Conroy smuggled the pup onto the ship bound for France. Now considered a mascot, Stubby had been taught to stand on his rear legs and lift his right paw to salute high-ranking officers. This endeared Stubby to all he met, including women of the French resistance, who sewed him a natty uniform. The dog turned out to be a valiant and useful addition to the men in the trenches, as he aided with rat removal, alerted the men to enemies approaching and was even temporarily wounded in action while helping to discover landmines. Bausum illustrates the history of the four-legged hero with plenty of period photographs from the Conroy family collection and other ephemera of the WWI era. Her impeccable research is outlined in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. She also tells of this famous dog in Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, written for adult readers. This title covers even more of Stubby’s exploits during and after the war. Both books are published by National Geographic, and are excellent avenues into this period. They will be enjoyed by dog lovers as well as by history buffs.


Behind the Plate

posted by: June 20, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for ThrowbackWhat do catchers and umpires really talk about during a ballgame? Longtime Major League catcher Jason Kendall reveals the secrets of that mystery in Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played. Co-authored by Kansas City Star sportswriter Lee Judge, this is not a personal memoir with a few details about what happens on the field, but instead it is chockfull of insights that any casual or ardent baseball fan will relish.

Kendall spent more than half of his decade-plus career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was known as an unusually speedy catcher with an unconventional batting stance. This resulted in him being the fifth most hit-by-pitch player in Major League history, and he divulges the methods used to reach base no matter what the cost. But for the bulk of the book, the self-described badass talks about the relationships a catcher has with the rest of his team and opponents when on the field. Kendall starts with the pitcher and discusses in great detail how statistics, while valuable, often take a back seat to keen observation. After several seasons in the big leagues, he could identify when a pitcher needed to hang it up, and when batters were simply phoning it in and when they were on fire. Most intriguing of all are the discussions between catcher and pitcher and the ever-evolving, incredibly exhaustive language of signs between the two critical players.

Written conversationally, but containing considerable detail, Throwback is a rare look into how contemporary baseball is won and lost. While other big leaguers are mentioned, this is all about the game and not about the personalities. And those catcher-umpire conversations? Kendall discloses how it is an all-game affair of compromise, conniving and convincing to make sure there would be a win for his team at the end of nine innings.


Mississippi, 50 Years On

posted by: June 11, 2014 - 7:00am

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in MississippiThe Freedom Summer MurdersAs the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the unspeakable murders of three young civil rights volunteers, two books introduce to young readers what happened in Mississippi in June of 1964 – and the legacy of that Freedom Summer. Susan Goldman Rubin takes a timeline approach in her middle grade book Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Each chapter is titled with a time, such as “June 21, 1964, Afternoon,” the last time any of the three victims were seen alive. Pulling no punches, Rubin outlines the devastating reality of the ingrained racist attitudes among many of the people of Neshoba County, Mississippi, at that time, while making plain that those feelings extended to the all-white law enforcement authorities which aided and abetted in the killings. Maps, interviews and reproductions of photos and newspaper clippings all bring to light the horror of the situation that played out over the course of that summer.


Don Mitchell’s The Freedom Summer Murders covers similar territory but in a slightly different way, and for a teen audience. Chapters introduce us to the victims individually as each of the young men – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – receives his due. Interviews with their families, friends and other volunteers in Mississippi that summer help bring a better focus to who they were and why they felt so strongly for this cause. Additionally, Mitchell’s book fully examines the legacy of the summer and how their martyrdom ignited nationwide awareness, shock and fury. He includes the protracted legal battles and eventual reconciliation efforts that have helped move Mississippi and the state forward from this dark episode even to this day.


Not Always As It Seems

posted by: April 30, 2014 - 8:00am

Nisekoi: False LovePhantom Thief JeanneCountless manga series that have been translated from the original Japanese have appeared in the U.S. over the past decade. After a few years of the market becoming flooded with sometimes mediocre products, publishers have become more selective. They are now focusing on the cream of the crop. Two strong, well-reviewed manga for teens that have been recent hits in Japan are arriving here in the U.S.


Nisekoi: False Love, by Naoshi Komi, tells the story of Raku, the high school-aged son of a Yakuza gangster. Raku’s father has arranged a “false love” match between the young man and a rival gang leader’s daughter, Chitoge. They get off to an inauspicious start when Chitoge accidentally knees Raku in the face, which in turn causes Raku to lose an important locket. This was the only connection he maintained to a childhood sweetheart, and the search for the lost item causes instant strife between the two newly matched teens. Despite the outrageous plot, this works as a sort of wacky romantic comedy, with gangster elements adding intrigue and surprise. Two volumes are currently available, with the third coming in May.


Meanwhile, Arina Tanemura’s Phantom Thief Jeanne is a reincarnation in more ways than one. Originally licensed to another publisher that later went bankrupt, this series has returned with new covers and crisp line drawings reminiscent of Sailor Moon. The other reincarnation is Jeanne herself – a “phantom-thief magical girl” who is the second coming of Joan of Arc. As is the case in many manga, the plot is almost too outrageous and convoluted to summarize, but it involves a battle between angels and devils, chess pieces that unlock the mysteries within the hearts of humans and demons hidden in priceless works of art. All of this is compounded by another story of false love!  The second volume of the series will soon be available. Both of these series are good avenues into the outlandish, fantastical world of manga, as well as peeks into Japanese culture.



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