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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
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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City of Light and Transformation

Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me DownDreaming in FrenchAs a child, Rosecrans Baldwin went to Paris with his family and became transfixed by its beauty. Later, as a twenty-something, Baldwin uses a connection to secure a job at an ad agency in Paris in need of a native English speaker. In the humorous and breezy memoir Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, he moves himself and his wife Rachel to France, where initially all the brilliance and luster of the City of Light shines upon them. That is, until he realizes that his facility with French isn’t quite as strong as he thought. Too quickly, the countless hassles of daily life in another culture start to take their toll. Bureaucratic red tape is overwhelming. Despite these obstacles, the small joys of Parisian life constantly astound the young couple. Baldwin manages to write his debut novel (the since-published You Lost Me There), adding his name to the long list of Americans finding creative inspiration in Paris.

 

A very different look at the expatriate-in-Paris experience is Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Alice Kaplan describes post-war Paris and the many Americans who were inspired to travel to Paris for varying lengths of time. Each of the three women she focuses on came to Paris for a year to study abroad. The city made an indelible impression on their futures, whether it was the “Frenchness” Jackie Kennedy later brought to the office of First Lady, or how the intellectualism of the city reinvigorated Susan Sontag’s writing and sense of purpose. The political upheaval Angela Davis witnessed in France inspired her to play an integral role in the Civil Rights movement back home. The transformative power of place is clearly displayed in this look at the ways we can become products of our environment.

Todd

 
 

Father of Mine

A Good ManA Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver, is a love letter to a man who was constantly referred to as “A Good Man” at the time of his funeral in 2011. His son Mark Shriver wanted to explore what made so many friends, journalists, and family members talk about his father in those terms. This memoir brings Sargent Shriver to light through episodic remembrances. Mark Shriver freely admits that he needed a village of former colleagues as well as his own family and friends to unearth the memories that he didn’t realize were still buried in his mind. While the list is long, this is largely a son’s fond thoughts about the man who made him who he is today. This is a personal look into the man who worked hard for what he believed in, yet remained a humble, beloved father to his five children.

 

Founder of the Peace Corps, Head Start, and along with his wife Eunice, the Special Olympics, Sargent Shriver was one of the larger-than-life figures of the last century. His accomplishments are legion. Jacqueline Kennedy even asked him to take responsibility for planning JFK’s funeral.

 

Documented with two inserts that include many Shriver and Kennedy family photos, the book is a nice addition to the canon of books that explore what many consider “America’s Royalty”. Particularly moving is the sad decline into dementia and Alzheimer’s that felled Sargent Shriver, and the situation his wife and children dealt with in its wake. But this is mostly a celebration of a good man and a good father, well told by a son who is rightfully proud of his dad.

Todd

 
 

Quack Open a Good Book

Quack Open a Good Book

posted by:
June 13, 2012 - 8:30am

Duck Sock HopKaty Duck Makes a FriendJust Ducks!Ducks have always entertained us, and in these three new books featuring our avian friends, the reader encounters more feathers, more webbed feet, and even more quacking! Duck Sock Hop, by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Jane Porter, is a musical, rhyming cacophony. The ducks of various colors and varieties (fancifully patterned in ways never seen in the wild) come together in their love of fancy socks and energetic dancing. When their socks begin to unravel from overuse, it’s not a problem, as the Duck Sock Shop is just down the road to obtain new footwear. This will soon become a story time favorite.

 

For children just starting to read, the Katy Duck series is a good place to begin. Her latest adventure, Katy Duck Makes a Friend, features Katy needing a new partner to dance with when it’s time for her little brother to nap. Fortunately Katy’s new dog neighbor Ralph soon appears, but his interests don’t initially match Katy’s. Henry Cole’s sweet illustrations of duck and dog in motion make this entry in the series likely to be as popular as the previous installments.

 

A newly popular concept is the hybrid fiction/nonfiction picture book. Not all are successful, but Nicola Davies’ Just Ducks! works beautifully. Mallards, often the first wild ducks children recognize, are featured. The story of a young girl viewing and noting the habits of a duck pair is counterpointed (in a different font) with notable facts about mallards and ducks in general. Salvatore Rubbino’s soft watercolors portray the ducks accessibly and accurately. Particularly well-illustrated and amusing are the renderings of the mallards in a favorite position: heads underwater, tails up!

Todd

 
 

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesOn Tuesday, it was announced that legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury had passed away at age 91. A long-time supporter of libraries and librarians, Bradbury's most famous and sometimes considered controversial work, Fahrenheit 451, remains a perennial choice of summer reading lists, the canon of 20th-century literature, and a target of book banners. Bradbury began writing that celebrated novel in the basement of a library. His writings ranged from short stories, screenplays, and novels such as the haunting Something Wicked This Way Comes and the beloved coming-of-age title Dandelion Wine.

 

Another of Bradbury's classics is The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories that, using thinly-veiled references to the Cold War, had people guessing who was colonizing whom. Through science fictional constructs, Bradbury excelled at forcing humans to look at the decisions they make. Elegies have come in from many sources, as far ranging as Neil Gaiman, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and President Obama.

Todd

 
 

A Voice for His Generation

A Voice for His Generation

posted by:
May 29, 2012 - 5:01am

PulpheadAs a contributor to many publications such as GQ, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Southern editor for The Paris Review, is an accomplished essayist. His collection, Pulphead: Essays, brings together fourteen of his best long-form works from the past decade. Sullivan writes on intriguing topics, including a visit to a large, annual Christian rock festival in Kentucky. There he meets a group of young men from West Virginia who he connects with and learns their varied motivations for being there. A strong sense of place and emotion is stirred when he places himself among the throngs of believers, many of whom come to this event year after year. A supporting “character” is the RV that Sullivan rents to attend the occasion; he explores the benefits and foibles of having such a vehicle there.

 

A more personal essay describes Sullivan’s experience after his brother Worth is electrocuted in a bizarre accident, and the resulting aftermath of the coma that follows. As in many of the essays, humor worms its way into otherwise sobering events, such as recounting how many details of this incident were remembered because it had appeared on reality show Rescue 911, hosted by William Shatner. Perhaps the most fascinating of his subjects is Mister Lytle, the last of a scholarly group known as the “Twelve Southerners”. Sullivan spends some months living with the 92-year-old man, and the experiences that they share are captivating. A window into the Old South that still existed not too very long ago is opened and strikingly examined.

 

Other topics include the Gulf Coast of Mississippi just days just after Hurricane Katrina; the experiences of reality show characters after "their" season has passed; and one essay each on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. John Jeremiah Sullivan is a writer who captures the longing, introspection, and world-weariness that exemplify the feelings of his Gen X contemporaries.

Todd

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A First Look at Nature’s Heroes

Life in the OceanRachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the WorldFor the BirdsThree of the most famous naturalists of the past one hundred years get their due in introductory, illustrated biographies for young readers. Each extraordinary life shares a common thread--following a strong interest in the natural world as a child and developing it into a career that changed the way Americans interact with their environment.

 

In Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the sea and all of its hidden plants and animals are brilliantly portrayed by author and illustrator Claire Nivola. From the New Jersey farm she lived on until age twelve, to the seaside in Florida where she spent her adolescence, these surroundings shaped Sylvia Earle’s life and her curiosity about the natural world. Diving into the depths and encountering whales and amazing bioluminescent fishes, her ongoing exploration of the ocean and fight to keep it clean and preserve its treasures has made Earle a pioneer for female marine biologists.

 

Rachel Carson is well-known worldwide for her seminal critique of pesticides and the chemical industry, Silent Spring, as well as other important works. Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World is a good introduction to her life and accomplishments. Showing an early interest in nature throughout her childhood, she found her niche after taking a biology course in college.  Laurie Lawlor covers both Carson’s triumphs and difficulties in this tightly-written biography.

 

Though known in his neighborhood for his unusual habits as a child, Roger Tory Peterson is now noticed for what he noticed--the incredible world of birds. His curiosity and lifelong passion to educate the masses and conserve the habitats our feathered friends is the subject of For the Birds: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson, best known for his many field guides to bird identification and behavior, is described vividly by Peggy Thomas, and the illustrations by Laura Jacques are striking. Of particular note is a double-page spread of a flicker just taking flight.

 

Budding environmentalists can learn about three of the most famous names in natural science with these timely picture book biographies.

Todd

 
 

Jean Craighead George, 1919-2012

Julie of the WolvesMy Side of the MountainPopular children's book author Jean Craighead George has died at the age of 92. A long-time resident of the Washington DC area, she was best known for her naturalistic writing for children. George won the Newbery Medal in 1972 for the Julie of the Wolves, and was also well-known for My Side of the Mountain, among countless other works.

Todd

 
 

Spiritual, But Not Religious

Christianity After ReligionBaltimore-born Diana Butler Bass has written extensively about the state of matters of faith in America over the past thirty years. Now, in Christianity after Religion: the End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, she argues that we are once again in a spiritual upheaval in the United States. This, she posits, is yet another in the line of spiritual “awakenings” that has gripped people of faith during times of change, such as today - the early 21st century.

 

Bass discusses some of the religious changes that have taken hold in the United States: the falling away of many from the faiths of their parents and ancestors; the loss of membership among large Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant groups; and the current rise in self-made spirituality. A surprising piece of information is how megachurches, which grew out of the most recent spiritual awakening of the 1970s, have largely plateaued in popularity over the past decade. Testimonies, analyzed polls, and quotes from religious scholars and leaders comparing the beliefs of Americans over the decades are interspersed throughout, lending considerable validity to her arguments.

 

The current awakening the author describes is the way in which Christianity is evolving beyond traditional religious structures. Our global connectedness and increased access to communication has allowed individuals to choose spiritual elements from many religious backgrounds, such as prayer, yoga, meditation, and joyful traditions to create their own connection with a higher power. These faiths are also instilled with valuable information coming from the secular world, such as environmental and social considerations. This is a provocative and eye-opening work from one of today’s top religion writers.

Todd

 
 

The Darkest Dark

A Black Hole is Not a HoleMost people consider the science of the sun, moon, planets, stars and the surrounding universe interesting, but often overwhelming. A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole, written especially for middle graders, turns out to be an excellent introduction to deep space concepts for people of all ages.

 

Big scientific concepts such as matter, mind-boggling distance (light-years!), and perhaps the biggest of them all, gravity, are given ample, clear explanations. The existence of black holes has been difficult to prove since their discovery, and what could become too much astrophysics is distilled as simply as possible. That Einstein never fully accepted the concept of black holes in his lifetime shows how far science has come in recent decades. Artist depictions and telescopic images fill the book with pictures that do their best to make the unimaginable come to life. Facts are engaging and well-explained. For example, the outer limit of a black hole is called the Event Horizon; from this point, no matter can escape the pull within. And our own galaxy has black holes, the largest of which makes up the center of the Milky Way, found in the constellation Sagittarius!

 

An extremely useful glossary and websites to further explore round out this brilliant informational book that will open the eyes of readers who will learn how a black hole is not quite a hole, or at least not a hole in the way that we on Earth know them. And as the author often states, science is a moving target, and each day researchers are learning more about the darkest dark of our universe.

Todd

 
 

Standing Together

Standing Together

posted by:
April 20, 2012 - 11:11am

The Silence of Our FriendsGraphic novels depicting actual events can be incredibly successful or dismal failures. In the case of The Silence of Our Friends, happily, the former is true. This semi-autobiographical story of the race tensions and riots in 1968 Houston deals with events largely unknown or forgotten. In the months before the demonstrations in and around Texas Southern University began, co-author Mark Long’s father had moved his family from San Antonio to Houston. Jack Long’s career was that of an on-the-scene reporter for a local TV station’s news department. To get a more accurate perspective of the situation, Jack Long befriended an African-American man, Larry Thompson and both families tentatively got to know each other. As the movement grew more heated, a deadly riot broke out on campus and both Jack Long and Larry Thompson found themselves in the middle of a murder trial. A well-known quote of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the source of the work’s title: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 

A great benefit to the format of the graphic novel is retelling a story of this nature in a new, evocative manner. Eisner-Award winner Nate Powell’s flowing line drawings capture the era, and add to the storyline. In particular, Long’s recollections of his family’s internal issues are captured in the images if not directly confronted in the text. The words pull no punches with the overt racist attitudes of the day, including uncomfortable language.  This book is highly recommended to readers interested in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and those who are looking to better understand the value of the graphic format.

Todd