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

Tom is a librarian at the Catonsville branch, and he enjoys reading collections of short stories and essays. In his free time, he loves playing video games with his girlfriend and three cats, practicing coffee wizardry, and getting more tattoos.

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Gutshot

Gutshot

posted by:
July 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Gutshot by Amelia GrayMost of Amelia Gray’s stories in Gutshot are unusually short — two or three pages each — which makes their power to shock and awe feel overwhelming. Each story begins with a harbinger sentence informing character or setting and descends into chaos, with all kinds of taboos roiling around between the beautifully adorned covers.

 

Grindhouse-level ultraviolence comprises the stories “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover” and “The Moment of Conception.” In “Date Night,” couples out for a good time flay one another to get to the person within. Different perceptions of love and adoration are absolutely ruined in “House Proud,” “The Swan as a Metaphor for Love” and “How He Felt.” “The Lives of Ghosts” portrays the departed returning to life in the form of grisly bruises and boils on those who miss them most. There’s provocative defilement in “Monument” and “Legacy,” and perverse detainment in “Western Passage.” In “House Heart,” a couple confines a girl to the ventilation system of their house and listen to her shimmy around...as foreplay.

 

Disgusting as this may sound, Gutshot is a tiny grimoire of genius brimming with macabre and hilarious imaginings. For every derisive snort elicited, there’s an equine chortle that’ll render readers suddenly cognizant of their wide-eyed, shell-shocked states. In the right light, stories like “Thank You” and “Go for It and Raise Hell” and “Gutshot” can feel like palate cleansers, reminding readers that it’s all for fun and nobody actually got dismembered at a fancy restaurant. 

Tom

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I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son

Cover art for I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid SonKent Russell is a 29-year-old dude and writer of articles and essays featured in prominent journals like n+1, Harper’s Magazine and GQ. His debut collection I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son unites his recent works under the banner of American masculinity. Russell profiles eclectic men who are pioneers and preservers of the notions of manliness, and also his father, a bygone beacon of swagger in the traditional sense of the word.

 

Towards the beginning of his collection, Russell remarks "I have come to fetishize opaque brutes. Adventurers, gunfighters, all the dumb rollicking killers. Dudes for whom torment and doubt are inconceivable (or at least incommunicable)." From there, he chronicles his friend’s desperate enlistment and subsequent deployment to Afghanistan; a man’s obsession with the world’s deadliest snake venoms and his agonizing process of self-immunization; a retired minor-league hockey player’s struggle to remain relevant as a ritualistic fighter on the ice; and a man’s willing exile from the first world despite an innate unwillingness to break his dependency on socialization. Woven between these essays are highly personal conversations between Russell and his father — ties of cohesion that bind the collection of essays into a book.

 

Feeling the burdens of expectation and vicarious pride, Kent Russell does what many slightly aimless, highly gifted intellectuals do: he curls further into himself. The essays in I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son are glimpses of what he sees inside while recoiling from his tirading father, or from a Black Mamba nipping at his shin, or from a bag of trash flung at him by a roving band of overweight juveniles clad in black-and-white clown makeup. Kent Russell is the brother of Karen Russell, author of the novel Swamplandia! and short story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Tom

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The Last Flight of Poxl West

Cover art for The Last Flight of Poxl WestDaniel Torday’s new novel The Last Flight of Poxl West is so meticulously researched and convincingly written, readers will believe they’ve found the second coming of Unbroken. Similar in theme, The Last Flight of Poxl West is the story of Leopold Weisberg, a.k.a Poxl West, a Czechoslovakian pilot who enlists in the Royal Air Force (RAF) to combat Nazis in the skies above Britain. Poxl’s story is told in portions of excerpts from his memoirs and from the present-day perspective of Eli Goldstein, Poxl’s young nephew who idolizes his uncle.

 

Poxl and Eli take frequent trips into town for ice cream sundaes. Over mounds of whipped cream topped with cherries and sprinkles, Poxl regales Eli with stories from a rough draft of a manuscript he’s working on, which would later become Skylock, his best-selling memoir. Eli treasures time with his uncle and is proud when Poxl’s book is released to critical acclaim, but he soon feels the sting of his uncle’s absence when Skylock flies Poxl to stardom.

 

Skylock is Poxl’s story of his life during World War II. He spent his teenage years watching his mother paint and his father tinker with a personal airplane, until pressure from the encroaching Reich and a familial disturbance cause him to flee to the Netherlands. The next few years of Poxl’s life are marred with love and loss and pockmarked from falling bombs. Remorse drives Poxl to enlist in the RAF and take to the skies, where he hopes to reciprocate the pain the Nazis have caused him.

 

In 250 words Poxl’s story sounds heroic, but what sets The Last Flight of Poxl West apart from other WWII stories or other memoirs of courage and victory is Poxl’s motivation. Depending on how readers perceive his actions, he could be a brave and selfless soldier, or he could be an obsessive and cowardly young man. It’s up to readers to decide which flight is actually Poxl’s last.

Tom

 
 

Turtleface and Beyond

Turtleface and Beyond

posted by:
June 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Turtleface and Beyond By Arthur BradfordDon’t judge this book by its simple cover; the stories contained within Arthur Bradford’s collection Turtleface and Beyond are highly original and situationally hilarious. Turtleface and Beyond features a series of stories starring Georgie, a hapless, lackadaisical fellow who seems to be a magnet for the bizarre.

 

In the titular "Turtleface," Georgie is canoeing down a lazy river with his friend Otto and their girlfriends, when Otto spies an imposing cliff and wants to leap from it. Against Georgie's advice, Otto scrambles up the mountainside and dives into the river below, where his face meets a meandering turtle. Georgie is racked with guilt not because of Otto's foolish accident, but because the turtle's shell is fissured.

 

"Lost Limbs" is the story of Georgie's unrequited interest in Lenore, a woman with a prosthetic arm. Lenore interprets Georgie’s lack of interest in her prosthesis as self-absorbed and ignoble, but poor Georgie didn’t even realize her arm was fake until their second date. Lenore breaks things off with Georgie, who is content with her decision until months later when he gets his leg caught in a wood chipper. As his calf is mangled in the machine, his first thought is, "Hm, I should call that lovely girl with the fake hand."

 

Georgie works the graveyard shift in an attorney’s library in "217-Pound Dog," where he meets Jim Tewilliger, a partner at the firm whose life is beginning to unravel. Sensing Georgie's kind nature, Jim asks him for help acquiring some marijuana. Georgie senses Jim is a man in need of a rare kind of help, so he acquiesces. Jim's behavior around the office becomes increasingly erratic, and Georgie, left vouching for him in a whirlwind of unfinished work and fast food wrappers, wonders what his acquaintance’s endgame entails.

 

Arthur Bradford’s imagination illuminates Georgie’s misadventures in Turtleface and Beyond, a collection genre lovers will find funny, laconic and clever. 

Tom

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Know Your Beholder

Know Your Beholder

posted by:
May 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Know Your BeholderThere are few tragedies capable of eliciting tears from a man in his early 30s. The death of a beloved pet, the dissolution of a marriage, maybe; or more realistically, the death of a beloved Xbox, the dissolution of a favorite band. In Adam Rapp’s Know Your Beholder, narrator and central character Francis Falbo bears his soul while marinating in his overlord’s bathrobe and cultivating his newly sprouted beard.

 

In snowy Pollard, Illinois, Francis Falbo’s rising indie rock band, The Third Policeman, feels the heat of rapid ascension and cinders into nothingness almost exactly as his wife Sheila Ann abandons him for another man. With nothing going for him other than a few new bristles encroaching on his face, he moves into the attic of his childhood home, which his father bequeathed to him before uprooting and fleeing to Florida after the death of his wife. Clad in a bathrobe and two pairs of thermal pajamas which eventually graft to his skin, Francis decides to become an amateur landlord and converts the spacious dwelling into a couple of apartments. He assembles a colorful cast of tenants, including a family of former circus performers looking to settle down, an ice-fishing enthusiast with an incredibly rotund stomach and his ex wife’s burnout brother.

 

Francis chronicles his woes day by day on an old typewriter and gradually realizes he has become agoraphobic, but he disguises his fear as a personality quirk as he accomplishes various landlording tasks like collecting rent and unclogging sinks. As winter passes, the Falbo house embraces the thaw and collectively hopes the spring will bring reprieve to their lives bereft of happiness.

 

Know Your Beholder is about overcoming heartbreak and is perfectly balanced, with the weight of tragedy elevating wry and witty humor laced with culturally relevant references to the indie music, art and literary scenes. 

Tom

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Reunion

Reunion

posted by:
May 18, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Reunion by Hannah Pittard

When a novel depicts a brief period of time, the pacing becomes just as crucial as the plot and the characters of the story. Hannah Pittard’s new novel Reunion takes place in the mourning period between a death and subsequent viewing. During those emotional few days, readers witness genuine exchanges between siblings who revert to old tendencies as soon as they’re in the same room together.

 

En route to Chicago via plane, Kate Pulaski checks her phone and discovers her estranged father Stan has killed himself. Her older siblings Elliot and Nell are pausing their busy lives to fly to Georgia to be with Sasha, Stan’s fifth wife, and their daughter Mindy. Kate is baffled by how quickly her brother and sister have booked their flights, and is forced onto another flight by her husband Peter — right before he tells her he wants a divorce. Kate remembers an affair she had and isn’t surprised by her husband’s scorn, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Wondering how any of her siblings, half-siblings or mothers-in-law could possibly want to mourn Stan’s death, Kate tries in vain to bolster her head and her heart for a tumultuous next couple of days. Days spent drinking far too much wine and attempting to read into familial relationships that she barely knew existed — what else is there to do at a family reunion predicated on a suicide?

 

Hannah Pittard opens and nurses complex relations between her cast of lovingly crafted and completely human characters, illustrating that a sense of familiarity — with people, places or things — can cause people to take an introspective look at what they’ve become and where they’re headed. Coming-of-age fans will find lots to like in Reunion, as will teens and new adults who enjoy relationship-centric stories.

Tom

 
 

Silvered Miasma

Silvered Miasma

posted by:
April 24, 2015 - 7:00am

Find Me by Laura van den BergPrepare to embark on a journey through desolation in Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Find Me is a deglamorized record of post-pandemic survival, one where recovery cannot begin until what’s held dear is forsaken.

 

Joy Jones is in the hospital, but not because she is sick; rather, she’s flotsam in the wake of a new virus that has left America 400,000 people fewer. Joy is one of around 90 survivors living in quarantine at the hospital, hoping to avoid the sickness which manifests as silver skin lesions and deteriorates the memory until the body forgets how to function. Under Dr. Bek and his armada of imposing nurses clad in hazmat suits, the 90 undergo daily stress tests to increase their chances of survival. Despite the uncomfortably close monitoring, some of the interned contract the illness and are sent to the upper floors to die. Joy knows that things at this medical sanctuary aren’t as they seem, and the sudden imposition of a localized media blackout exacerbates her fears. Armed with a photo of her estranged mother bequeathed to her by a deceased aunt, Joy plans her escape with the hopes of finding all she has squandered and relinquished.

 

Find Me is about loss both immediate and lifelong; it’s a mural of a populace haunted by all things unrecoverable. In a world where there is no hope or love left to fill voids, chasms consume those desperate souls who can’t bring themselves to let go. Laura van den Berg writes in a superb literary voice without betraying her young heroine, and brings ancillary characters to life through their unique memory mnemonics and coping mechanisms. Readers who enjoyed or who are anxiously awaiting their copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven should go to great lengths to track this one down.

Tom

 
 

The First Bad Man

The First Bad Man

posted by:
April 20, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The First Bad ManMiranda July is an extraordinary artist capable of channeling her creativity into any medium, and her debut novel The First Bad Man surpasses the ambitiousness of her fantastic short collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. In The First Bad Man, July makes a mockery of relationship conventions and proves through her quirky, heavily flawed characters that for love to exist, it simply needs to be felt.

 

Manic, obsessive, middle-aged Cheryl works from home for a nonprofit women’s self-defense studio. Her bosses Carl and Suzanne are looking for a volunteer to shelter their obstinate daughter Clee who is in desperate need of a change of scenery, but they’re met with little enthusiasm around the office. So when Clee shows up on Cheryl’s doorstep with her stuff, neither she nor Cheryl is prepared for how violently their disparate worlds are about to collide. At first, the two avoid each other when they’re both home, but once they’re forced to acknowledge how weird this is, the avoidance devolves into nightly wrestling matches inspired by the self-defense exercises constituting their livelihoods. Ritual gives way to shame, which cycles back to anger between the estranged housemates, and it takes a grounding realization for Clee to feel open to reconciliation with Cheryl. Will their relationship bloom into something even more complex and beautiful, or break down like everything else in their lives has?

 

Cheryl and Clee waver between the roles of optimist and pessimist, offsetting the absurdity of their situation with a sense of “I guess it could happen” realism. With a supporting cast including a pair of psychiatrists with more problems than their clientele and a philanderer who needs a spiritual permission slip to do his thing, The First Bad Man is a strangely perverse, endearing and memorable warping of the tale of two people united by calamity.

Tom

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Crimson Coils

Crimson Coils

posted by:
March 23, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for You Feel So MortalWhen composed by a gifted writer, creative nonfiction can be a magical vessel capable of alchemizing the mundane into the enthralling. Lifelong-Chicagoan Peggy Shinner is one such sorceress; in her collection You Feel So Mortal, she reflects on the elemental aesthetics and feelings of the human body, touching on the ideas of awkward feet, poor posture, proper fit and even plastic surgery.

 

In “The Fitting(s),” Shinner recounts a harrowing trip to an upscale department store to purchase new bras with the aid of a professional fitter. Her tale is laced with memories of shopping with her mother, and her own ponderings on the implications of choosing the alluring over the practical as a sort of gratuity to the fitter’s expertise. Shinner chronicles her experiences training as an advanced martial artist in “The Knife,” an essay about the myriad reciprocities between our bodies and the tools we use. “Elective” is a soul-bearing debate on the merits of plastic surgery: Does the empowerment of perceived beauty outweigh the emotional strain born from the defilement of one’s natural state?

 

Blended with sentimental storytelling in a lighter literary voice, Shinner’s factual anecdotes help characterize her worldly observations. She treasures her rare vantage and shares her assembled insights in nine accessible essays brimming with equal parts nostalgia and profundity. You Feel So Mortal is perfect for literary essay enthusiasts, for nonfiction lovers looking for something endearing and sentimental, or for readers interested in a Jewish or lesbian perspective.

Tom

 
 

Moonraker

Cover art for Star Wars: A New DawnSince the Clone Wars, Emperor Palpatine’s reach spans as far as Star Destroyer warp drives can extend. For some, the tumultuous peace is just another inevitable hardship of border planet living, but other galactic citizens aren’t as keen to bend to the Emperor’s will. In Star Wars: A New Dawn, longtime comic and Lucas Books writer John Jackson Miller introduces two new characters who are poised to become lingering thorns in Palpatine’s side as they rally their own rebellion, one refugee at a time.

 

Planet Gorse is only inhabited by holdout colonists clinging to a declining mining trade. They spend their days harvesting thorilide, a commodity for droid and weapons manufacturing, and their nights drinking away their hard-earned credits at Okadiah’s planetside cantina. Working to impress the Emperor, ruthless and cunning business mogul Count Vidian arrives on Gorse to survey the thorilide supply and optimize what little industry remains. His investigation leads him to Cynda, Gorse’s moon, which is also laden with thorilide. The trick is that extracting thorilide from beneath the moon’s surface is time-consuming, and both Vidian and the Emperor are unwilling to wait for the materials to trickle in from border space.

 

Kanan Jarrus is a Cyndan miner seemingly like all the other holdouts, but he is able to draw exceptional strength and willpower from the pain of loss he has been harboring since childhood. Jarrus notices the out-of-place Vidian marching around with his clone soldier escorts and takes it upon himself to keep the other miners safe by any means. He runs into Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek spy who has been trailing Vidian across the galaxy, and the two ally to combat the encroaching Empire. Can they stop Vidian from hatching a nefarious plan to harvest Cynda’s resources in a highly unethical and ultimately lethal manner?

 

Kanan and Hera continue their adventures in the animated series Star Wars Rebels which has spawned numerous Star Wars books for children. Adult and teen readers who enjoy A New Dawn should round up their children, brothers and sisters for a Star Wars party!

Tom