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Truly Madly Guilty

posted by: December 5, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Truly Madly GuiltyWhat could possibly go wrong at an ordinary neighborhood barbecue? In Liane Moriarty’s latest novel Truly Madly Guilty, we meet three families left reeling after a horrible occurrence at a friendly backyard get-together.

 

Set in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, Truly Madly Guilty follows thirtysomething Clementine, a freelance cellist preparing to audition with the Sydney orchestra; Erika, Clementine’s very organized and slightly OCD childhood friend; and Tiffany, Erika’s sultry next door neighbor who has a secret past.

 

 
Clementine is married to Sam and has two young daughters, Holly and Ruby. Clementine and Sam once had a loving and communicative relationship, but now they barely speak to each other. They both feel guilty and blame each other for what happened at the barbecue. Erika, who plans everything, is the child of a hoarder and lives a structured and organized life with her socially anxious husband Oliver. Erika accidently became intoxicated during the barbecue, leading her to question her recollections of what happened that night. Meanwhile, the hosts of the unfortunate barbecue are fun-loving and carefree couple Vid and Tiffany. Though they have seemingly moved on from what took place in their backyard that day, their 10-year-old daughter Dakota has been acting strangely lately, showing symptoms of depression.

 

Told through interwoven narratives, Moriarty flips back and forth between the present-day barbecue and the day of the tragedy. The story gradually builds to what actually happened, keeping readers guessing until the heart wrenching reveal. Truly Madly Guilty encompasses elements of both mystery and suspense, but is ultimately an examination of adult friendships, the fragility of marriages and the way feelings of guilt can overtake our lives.

 


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Fight Club 2

posted by: December 1, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fight Club 2You always wanted a sequel, and here it is. Dark, weird, confusing and fascinating are all words to describe this head-bending follow up. What Chuck Palahniuk began in Fight Club, he brings full circle in Fight Club 2, and he does so with panache.

 

The book starts several years into the future. The Narrator is now married to Marla, and they have a child. But things are not as joyful as they seem. There are worms in the apple, and things start to fall apart quickly. Palahniuk’s prose is seductive and grand; he posits ideas and immediately pivots to shred them. How powerful is an idea; can it survive the thinker? Can it pass from one generation to the next? These are the sorts of questions that Fight Club 2 demands we answer, all while it assails us with an ideology of violent revolution that’s intended to free our souls from this corporate purgatory we inhabit. Certainly, this book makes clear above anything else that Tyler Durden’s nihilistic philosophy is as juvenile as it is empty.

 

In the end, the questions will linger longer than the answers, and the reader may be left wondering if anything was really answered at all. But for diehard Palahniuk and Fight Club fans, this is a must read regardless. All you can do is strap in and enjoy one more wild ride. If you enjoyed this and you haven’t read the original, you absolutely should pick it up and give it a read.

 

If you’re a graphic novel fan, you should also consider Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, another tale of violent revolution. For something a little less violent, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor tells the story of a young man whose story goes from mundane to mystical and poses a lot of similar questions about our lives and what they mean. Fans of the original book should consider Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which similarly examines the sort of corporate prisons we build and what they do to us, or Charles Heller’s Catch-22, which take a little more roundabout route to examining man’s inhumanity to man and the effects of that violence on the soul.


 
 

Between the Covers with Gary Vikan

posted by: November 30, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sacred and StolenCrooked dealers. Forgeries. Thefts. Looted antiquities. Readers will find it all in Gary Vikan’s highly readable and entertaining new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director. The distinguished medieval scholar and former director of the Walters Art Museum recently answered questions for Between the Covers in advance of his book talk at the Hereford Branch on December 4 at 2 p.m.

 

Between the Covers: Your new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director, provides an insightful, often humorous look behind the scenes of the art world. What prompted you to share these stories with the public?

 

Gary Vikan: Over the years I became increasingly interested, as I gave tours of the Walters, in telling the stories behind the works of art — stories that are distinct from their art-historical narrative. Most works have a story, many are very interesting — and some straight-out scandalous.

 

BTC: Shady dealings, sketchy characters, stolen art — you cover it all. Did you worry you were saying too much?

 

GV: Not at all. Maybe not enough. My lectures on the book can go into that other territory.

 

BTC: Museums have to connect with people. How has the art experience for the public changed since you got into the business?

 

GV: I initially thought my job was to educate my audience. Now I think my job is to listen to my audience, and to meet them where they are. Ideally, I can create for them a setting in which works of art of the past can do their magic.

 

BTC: From 1994 to 2013, you were the director of the Walters Art Museum. What accomplishments are you most proud?

 

GV: We went free in 2006. That is what museums should be: FREE.

 

BTC: Of all the exhibitions you’ve curated during your career, do you have a favorite?

 

GV: Yes, Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece in 1988. It was the first major icon show in the U.S., and it was the first time I was able to empower the works fully in my installation.. People kissed the Plexiglas of the cases containing the icons.

 

BTC: You speak about the “Wild West” days of collecting when not a lot of questions were asked about the provenance of pieces. Where are we today with the trail of looted antiquities and threat to the world’s cultural heritage?

 

GV: We’re in what I call the “Post-Loot” age. I can tell that by what is NOT coming out of Syria and Iraq. Like our tobacco culture, our loot culture has changed profoundly over the last 30 years.

 

BTC: What do you see as the next challenges for museums?

 

GV: Being meaningful for audiences, and playing a meaningful role in addressing social justice and social ills. To be a player in healing.

 

BTC: You have a knack for telling an engaging story. Are there any plans to write a fictional whodunit set in the art world?

 

GV: Nope, because my reality is stranger than fiction. My next book is titled: The Shroud: Case Closed. And guess what, I prove the Shroud of Turin is a FAKE!


 
 

American Cake

posted by: November 29, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for American CakeI have always fancied myself a baker, so I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into Anne Byrn’s American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-loved Cakes from Past to Present. In her latest, Byrn, the best-selling author of Cake Mix Doctor (which has one of my favorite, go to cake recipes — Chocolate Kahlua Cake), not only gives you delicious recipes, but the history behind some of your favorite cakes as well.

 

The book starts with baking in America in the mid-1600s and continues through the present. Home bakers did not always have modern day appliances, but they still baked wonderful cakes. There were times when some of the ingredients were scarce and people had to improvise, which, according to Byrn, is the mark of a good baker. We learn that early cake baking was done by the wealthy because the ingredients were expensive. Each recipe comes with a brief history. Maryland’s own Smith Island Cake has an entry. There were  “war cakes” and “Depression cakes,” which were  made without eggs, sugar or butter due to unavailability or rationing. Post-World War II, fictional character Betty Crocker had a large influence on women with her cake mixes and cookbooks.

 

American Cake tells the story of our nation’s history through my favorite treat, cake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook over an open fire — Byrn has updated the recipes for our modern bakers. Many of these recipes will be in my baking rotation. Happy baking and more importantly, happy eating.

 


 
 

A Gentleman in Moscow

posted by: November 23, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover Art for A Gentleman in MoscowFans of Amor Towles first novel, Rules of Civility, have patiently waited for another work, and A Gentleman in Moscow is worth the long wait. Yet again, this gifted writer breathes life into a lavish era long since passed. He introduces a cast of characters that are sure to charm readers, none more so than Count Alexander Rostov.

 

The story opens shortly after the Russian Revolution. The Count is being tried for writing a popular counter-revolutionary poem, but thanks to some high-ranking friends in the party, his life is spared. Instead, he is declared a “Former Person” — given a life sentence of house arrest. This is interesting, since the Count resides at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol, one of the city’s most elegant hotels, just steps away from the Kremlin. Though he must give up his stately suite and take up residence in a tiny room on the top floor, he is not a man defined by rooms.

 

From inside his beloved hotel, he observes the upheaval that sweeps through Russia in the years after the revolution. Over the next three decades, the country he loves disappears and is replaced by something unrecognizable.

 

Despite these changes in society, he never loses sight of who he is. His bygone code of ethics is in large part what makes him so delightful as a character. While this may sound stuffy, Towles infuses the characters, including the Metropol itself, with too much effervescent charm to ever be considered tedious.

 

A rich cast of intriguing characters pass through the hotel, some of them becoming part of the Count’s life in the most unexpected ways. Despite his imprisonment, his life is no less full than it may have been if he were a gentleman of leisure living freely abroad. In fact, his imprisonment may arguably take him on a more emotionally rewarding journey.

 

Towles somehow keeps life inside the hotel from ever becoming monotonous for readers. This could be in large part because of the humor provided by the stories narrator, balanced perfectly with moments of insight that will leave readers mulling the words over long after they finish the book. Towles also weaves in history, literature, ballet, architecture, and not least of all the importance of food and wine pairing without ever seeming pedantic.

 

This work will appeal to fans of Russian classics as well as readers who enjoy the sly wit and charm of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton.


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Victoria

posted by: November 22, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Victoria the QueenIn Julia Baird’s biography, Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, she does not shy away from telling both the good and the bad, but being that I am a fan of the queen, I shall not speak ill of her. At the time of her death, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch. She reigned for just over 63 years — this time has become known to us as the Victorian Era.

 

When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, but her father, the Duke of Kent, stated: “Look at her well, for she will be Queen of England.” Victoria became queen at the age of 18, at a time when most women had no power, and first British monarch to live in Buckingham Palace.

 

Queen Victoria was popular at the beginning of her reign but went in and out of favor with her people during her time on the throne. She overcame numerous attempts on her life and was key in constructing the British Empire. With her nine children and 42 great grandchildren, Queen Victoria has been dubbed “the grandmother of Europe.” Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down as it is filled with all the hallmarks of a blockbuster — drama, intrigue and scandal. This book is a great pairing with Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria.


 
 

Romeo and/or Juliet

posted by: November 21, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Romeo and/or JulietSay “Shakespearean tragedy” and everyone who has attended a high school English class can tell you how the play will end — with blood everywhere and a high body count. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could take control of a character’s destiny and alter his or her fate? What if you could be Romeo and/or Juliet in a way that didn’t end in the lovers' suicides?

 

Enter from stage right: Ryan North, with his retooling of Romeo and Juliet in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. That’s right, Choose Your Own Adventure, with all the multiple endings (over 100 in all, some still ending in death — this is a Choose Your Own Adventure model after all) that implies. Readers initially can play as Juliet or Romeo, choosing to follow the original story to its bitter end. Or they can pick a different path to see where that could lead — marrying other people, leading a life of piracy, owning a body building gym, operating giant robots, even crashing the plots of other Shakespeare plays.

 

There are plenty of Easter eggs for Shakespeare fans; North populates the book with references and character cameos from Shakespeare’s other works. If you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, though, don’t worry: You don’t have to understand the references to appreciate North’s wacky sense of humor. He’s also enlisted a whole battalion of illustrators to better visualize the end you choose, also to great comedic effect. This isn’t North’s first time around doing this, either; his first Kickstarter novel To Be or Not to Be, or Hamlet as told as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, was the second-most funded publishing project on Kickstarter as of 2013.

 

If you’re looking for a good laugh or want to play with a play, Romeo and/or Juliet is an excellent choice, spinning a familiar tale of woe into something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Fans of the book may also enjoy Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant! or Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.


 
 

The Trespasser

posted by: November 14, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The TrespasserA young woman’s life is cut short just as she is freed to pursue her own happiness in Tana French’s latest Murder Squad entry, The Trespasser. Aislynn Murray was a good girl, who took care of her mother after her father walked out on the family. After her mother’s death, Aislynn flowered; she lost weight, bought fashionable clothes and went to the salon. Without a normal family life as a guide, she modelled her world around what magazines portrayed. Frequenting trendy clubs, she was soon juggling two boyfriends. Until one night, Aislynn ended up with fist to the jaw and her head bashed in.  

 

Detective Antoinette Conway heads up the investigation into Aislynn’s murder, with Detective Steve Moran as her partner. She’s the only female detective in a male-dominated squad room, and spends a lot of her time looking over her shoulder. As the two newest members of the squad, they’re usually stuck with the open-and-shut domestic investigations. This time they may have caught a hot one that could launch their careers. What looks like a simple fight with a boyfriend isn’t so simple after all.

 

Tana French knows how to reach the reader viscerally. She explores her characters in their deepest darkest places and exposes their greatest anxieties. She is also adept at describing police procedure and investigation without gratuitous violence. French has won multiple awards for her work, including the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, In the Woods. She has combined great literary writing with the suspenseful plotting of a mystery with enormous success.  

 


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Ninth City Burning

posted by: November 14, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Ninth City BurningNinth City Burning by J. Patrick Black is the first installment of a new series that takes an exciting and refreshing approach to the aliens attacking Earth story. Set 500 years in the future, the people of Earth have been in a grinding war with a mysterious alien species. With them came the mysterious force of "thelemity", which they brought to use as a weapon. Luckily, humans found that they could use thelemity too.

 

Black introduces us to a variety of characters that, through their multiple viewpoints, build up this multifaceted and detail-rich story. Jax is a 12-year-old "fontani", someone who can use the mysterious element of thelemity and plays an important part in the defense of the Ninth City. Torro is a factory worker in a settlement of the Ninth City who is chosen in a sudden draft for the war. Naomi and Rae are sisters that travel and live outside of the city who end up becoming much more important to the Ninth City than they could have known. Though these are just a few of the characters who lend their viewpoints, we learn the truths of the war and their part in it as each of them train and prepare for battle.

 

Black’s future Earth is wonderfully imagined with sharp attention to detail. Many things aren’t what you think they are initially, and the twists in the story add an air of mystery that I was not expecting. Lovers of science fiction and fantasy will find Ninth City Burning intriguing and intense in the best possible way. Be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of the series.


 
 

Trials of the Earth

posted by: November 8, 2016 - 6:00am

Cover art for Trials of the EarthMary Mann Hamilton lived through it all on the frontier of the Mississippi Delta. Later in life, with the encouragement of a family friend, she wrote her story down in Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman and entered it into a contest for publication. Thankfully, despite losing the contest the transcript eventually made its way to publication.

 

American history is presented undiluted by the lens of the modern historian or reimagined into a more relatable tale, where disease strikes once, neighbors aren’t constantly trying to swindle and cheat each other and children don’t make sport of shooting at escaped convicts. Hamilton presents her life in a very manner of fact fashion, to the point where her arduous daily tasks almost seem manageable. Whether it is cooking breakfast for an entire tree-felling labor camp, tending to infirm family members, keeping her head and that of her children above the rising flood waters or convincing her husband to indulge in his vice only in the privacy of their home, Mary Hamilton details an intense tale of another time.

 

Her direct style is a clear result of the frontier life that left no time for woolgathering or money to indulge in extravagances. It makes for a fascinating, unrelenting read you won't be able to put down. If you enjoyed either of the novels One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus or The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, you should consider checking out this memoir.

 


 
 

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