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Novels That Thrill and Unsettle

Novels That Thrill and Unsettle

posted by:
June 26, 2015 - 12:00pm

Seveneves by Neal StephensonThe Water Knife by Paolo BacigalupiA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul TremblayWhat makes for a suspenseful, page-turning thriller? The kind of book that you can’t put down is often the book that can’t put you down, either — it pulls you in and shows up in your waking life as well as your dreams. Science fiction master Neal Stephenson is back with the highly anticipated Seveneves, this time speculating about the end of the world as we know it, and the cannily imagined rebuilding of our entire society. All good novels should hook the reader in its opening pages; Seveneves grabs you by the throat with its first sentence. “The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” Once the dust clears, it’s apparent that what’s left is “seven giant rocks where the Moon ought to have been.” This inciting action propels the novel forward, as politicians and scientists worldwide must ensure the survival of mankind. Not content to explore the immediate impact of such a catastrophic event, Stephenson then looks forward 5,000 years into the future to show how things have turned out. Need another tantalizing reason to pick up one of this summer’s most thrilling reads? The title refers not to the number of pieces of the former Moon, but to the lone seven women who must repopulate the human race. A smartly written, witty and intelligent epic that will make you think as much as it entertains, Seveneves deserves an audience beyond that of dedicated science fiction readers.

 

In The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi has seen the apocalyptic near-future of the American Southwest, and it is dry as bone. Fast-paced and as violent as any traditional crime story, the novel doesn’t need to go far to imagine what might happen if water were more precious than fossil fuels. Baciagalupi tells his story from the points of view of three diverse characters whose paths intersect. Angel Velasquez is the titular “water knife,” a gang-tattooed enforcer who ensures water rights for the Southern Nevada Water Authority at all costs. Prize-winning journalist Lucy Monroe chronicles the collapse of Phoenix, as the city is hit by relentless storms of dust and sand, and Maria Villarosa is a young Texas migrant (militias keep the desperate from crossing state borders) with dreams of moving north to greener, less harsh climes. Action packed and dialog-driven, this sci-fi tinged noir thriller of water politics, greed, corruption and survival is difficult to put down.

 

Readers looking for a more traditional horror tale should spend time with the Barrett family of Beverly, Massachusetts, in Paul Tremblay’s literary psychological thriller A Head Full of Ghosts. As the book begins, 20-something Merry has returned to the family’s former home, now dilapidated and up for sale, to meet with an author who is interested in her story. It all began when Merry was 8 years old and her sister Marjorie was entering her teens. Marjorie began acting strangely, scaring her sister with threats and terrifying stories. Her behavior became increasingly threatening and even supernatural, leading their stressed and unemployed father to consult with a Catholic priest. Are Marjorie’s issues related to her mental health, or could she have been taken over by a demon, a la The Exorcist? In a modern day twist, the family allows the whole thing to play out as a reality television show, The Possession, as a way to pay the mortgage. Tremblay writes with insight and humor, building suspense and tension through a story told by present-day Merry, 8-year-old Merry and a snarky blogger deconstructing The Possession 15 years later. Could Marjorie have been faking the whole thing?

Paula G.

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Thrilling Women

Thrilling Women

posted by:
May 15, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Bullet by Mary Louise KellyCover art for The Pocket Wife by Susan CrawfordGood news for thriller fans! Two new novels will have readers on the edge of their seats with gripping suspense, shattering secrets and women in peril who will do anything to stay alive.

 

NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly shares a story about fear, family secrets and one woman's hunt for answers in The Bullet. Caroline Cashion, a professor at Georgetown University, is stunned when an MRI reveals that she has a bullet lodged in her skull. Her parents finally admit that she was adopted at the age of 3 following her biological parents’ murders. Caroline was present at the crime, and in fact was struck by the same bullet that killed her mother. Doctors could not remove the bullet without risking Caroline’s death. Thirty-four years later, Caroline returns to her hometown to learn about her parents and their horrific deaths. But Caroline is in danger. The killer was never caught and the bullet in her head is the only evidence that can identify him. This fast-paced thriller, complete with a touch of romance, is perfect for fans of Lisa Gardner or Tess Gerritsen.

 

Susan Crawford’s The Pocket Wife introduces readers to Dana Catrell who suffers from bipolar disorder. Married to Peter, she is shocked when their neighbor Celia is brutally murdered. Upon learning that she was the last person to see Celia alive at a booze-fueled lunch marred by an argument over incriminating pictures of Peter, Dana threatens to descend into mania. Her husband is behaving oddly, and Detective Jack Moss is a frequent and persistent visitor. This is the story of a wounded woman teetering on the edge of sanity, determined to recover her memory and find the truth. But when Dana uncovers some of Celia’s secrets, she starts receiving threatening notes which Peter believes are self-authored. Alternating chapters follow Jack and his investigation and Dana, whose reliability is questionable and whose voice evolves with her changing mental state. The engaging characters add to this electrifying combination of solid mystery and fast-paced psychological thriller.

Maureen

 
 

Luckiest Girl Alive

Luckiest Girl Alive

posted by:
May 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Luckiest Girl AliveJessica Knoll's new adult fiction novel Luckiest Girl Alive is set in the same area where she grew up. Her protagonist also has the same profession Knoll used to hold. It’s probably because of this that her book is so rich with description and such vivid imagery.

 

TifAni grew up with a mother who always wanted what was best for her, but not necessarily what would make her happy. When in college she met her best friend Nell, who showed her how to manipulate people to get what was in her best interest. It was a combination of these two figures that helped TifAni create the “perfect” life for herself.

 

It was during high school that TifAni experienced a severe trauma. In order to distance herself from her past, TifAni changed her name to Ani when she went to college. Ani has always tried to fill her gaping emotional gap with possessions and prestige. After college, Ani went on to have a prominent job at a well-known women's magazine, a fiancé with old money and starves herself into a coveted size zero. Despite how perfect her life may seem to someone on the outside, nothing can smother the pain left by her teenage trauma.

 

This character driven account of one woman's desire to get all she's ever wanted is disturbingly candid. As you follow the bread crumbs through the story, you slowly gather more details of what TifAni went through as a troubled teen – and just when you think you've figured her out, she throws you a curve.

 

 

Randalee

 
 

Whirlwind Suspense

Whirlwind Suspense

posted by:
May 5, 2015 - 7:00am

Season of Fear by Brian FreemanTen years after an assassin’s bullet takes her husband’s life, Diane Fairmount  champions the cause of his fledgling political party, The Common Way, in Brian Freeman’s suspense novel Season of Fear. Attractive, popular and topping the polls, it looks like Diane is destined to become Florida’s new Governor. When an insidious voice echoes from the past, Diane turns to her best friend Tarla Bolton, whose son is former FBI agent turned private investigator Cab Bolton. Cab explores beneath the hype and unearths dirty tricks, long-buried secrets and political machinations. There are right-wing extremists, covert political operations and the murder of a young political operative. Has Cab revealed a right-wing terrorist, or is it a shrewd plot to lead him off target? Teaming with political researcher Peach Piper, Cab must race against time to stop the killer. For there is another havoc on the horizon – a hurricane is bearing down on Tampa, Florida, and it just might permanently bury the evidence.

 

Brian Freeman has created a cross between Jack Reacher and Richard Castle; handsome, wealthy and dynamic. It’s impossible not to root for Peach, a deeply troubled young woman determined to avenge her friend’s death. Part complex political thriller, part intense police procedural, Freeman weaves a web of intrigue that will leave you gasping for air. Move over Virgil Flowers, and make room for Cab Bolton.

 

Brian Freeman is the internationally best-selling author of psychological suspense novels, including The Cold Nowhere, Spilled Blood and the The Burying Place. Brian's debut thriller Immoral won the Macavity Award and was a nominee for the Edgar, Dagger, Anthony, and Barry awards for best first novel. Cab Bolton first appears in The Bone House

 

Leanne

 
 

Trapped by Fear

Trapped by Fear

posted by:
March 12, 2015 - 8:00am

Die Again by Tess GerritsenFamous for her taut, gripping, forensic thrillers, Tess Gerritsen once again leads us to the edge in Die Again.

 

Seeing a dog in the window of a home with a human finger in his mouth, a mailman immediately contacts the police. Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzolli and forensic pathologist Moira Isles discover the body of a big-game hunter, trussed hanging upside down, and ultimately the victim of a large cat. Leon Gott has hunted big game and is considered the finest taxidermist in the business, but it looks like the animal kingdom has decided to redress the difference. Isles believes this case is tied to a series of suspicious incidents involving hikers in remote areas. All of those killings involved big cat attacks, and some were dismissed as unfortunate encounters with nature. The investigation leads to a link between the taxidermist and a group on safari in Africa victimized by a leopard.

 

Six years previously, a group of vacationers seeking a unique African experience joined a safari. Expecting exotic adventures, fabulous sights and romantic evenings by the fire, they instead faught for their lives in a world that was ruled by “eat or be eaten.” Told through the eyes of Millie Jacobson, a London bookstore owner, we travel alternately between the murder investigation in Boston and the growing horror in Botswana, as each vacationer is attacked and dragged away, one by one.

 

Gerritsen is a master at weaving grisly details into her forensic science, and the result is a suspense-filled trip through terror. The writer is also ably adept at drawing believable, deeply human characters who struggle with the normalcy of daily life while facing the worst human nature can provide. The complex relationships among the investigating team as they struggle to unearth the truth and unmask a killer add to the realistic portrayal.

 

Fans of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell and Jeffery Deaver will find this a deeply satisfying read. There is also a television series featuring Rizzoli and Isles. Just remember, this trip is not for the faint of heart.

Leanne

 
 

Here Be Some Very Bad Dragons

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew ReillyPuff the Magic Dragon conjures up a saccharine image, kind of like a winged Barney. A dragon named Melted Face with hide like Kevlar is more a feature of nightmares. Unfortunately for herpetologist CJ Cameron, Melted Face and his cronies have her in their sights in the rip-roaring action thriller The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly.

 

CJ is flying to China. The Chinese government is sparing no expense to bring her, along with influential politicians and reporters, to premiere their nation’s newest attraction: a phenomenal zoo designed to make the Disney’s amusement empire look rinky-dink. As they arrive at the park, located in a remote no-fly zone, CJ is stunned to see Greyhound bus-sized mythical creatures soaring through the sky. The official announcement? “Welcome to Great Dragon Zoo of China.”

 

Like a surreal Sea World, the visit starts with the equivalent of a dolphin show. A cute handler prompts dragons through tricks, explains they were were hatched from ancient eggs buried miles beneath the earth’s crust and ends by saddling up a sweet yellow dragon and flying into the clouds. CJ, however, sees both grim intelligence and simmering resentment in the lizards’ eyes, and this public relations visit quickly turns into a blood-soaked battle for survival as hordes of angry dragons turn their captors into prey. Furiously paced and laced with reptilian scientific factoids, The Great Zoo of China is an adrenaline-charged adventure of a tale.

Lori

 
 

Vanished

Vanished

posted by:
February 9, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for DescentCover art for The Missing PlaceMissing children show up on milk cartons. What happens to missing adults whose disappearance may not trigger the same sense of urgency from law enforcement investigations? Novels The Missing Place by Sophie Littlefield and Descent by Tim Johnston combine taut suspense with a look at the family dynamics at play when an adult child vanishes.

 

Descent opens with Grant and Angie Courtland lazing in a Colorado hotel room bed while their son and college-bound daughter are out on an early morning mountain trail jaunt. A ringing telephone conveys the news to the parents that their Rockies summer vacation is now officially a nightmare. Sixteen-year-old Sean was found on the trail, unconscious and with a shattered leg; his older sister Caitlin has disappeared without a trace. Johnson examines the remaining Courtlands’ unique reactions to the tragedy while unraveling the mystery of Caitlin’s fate. Part family drama, part dark psychological thriller, Descent will keep the reader on tenterhooks to the end.

 

In The Missing Place, suburban Boston housewife Colleen Mitchell is flying to North Dakota armed only with a handful of text messages from her son Paul, who’s gone missing after he dropped out of college to work as a roughneck in the booming hydrofracking industry. Colleen ends up sharing lodgings with Shay, mother to a young man who went missing along with Paul, and the two women from opposite sides of the tracks form an uneasy alliance to search for their sons. Colleen brings her corporate lawyer husband’s financial resources to their quest while Shay brings tech savvy and street smarts, but is that sufficient to breach the cone of silence engineered by gas companies intent on guarding their bottom line? Littlefield, an Edgar Award nominee who writes for both adults and teens, deftly portrays the anguish of mothers determined to find their sons who end up uncovering some unexpected adult secrets, too.

Lori

 
 

Not Mayberry

Not Mayberry

posted by:
February 2, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for Sometimes the WolfSometimes the Wolf: A Novel by Urban Waite is about a small town sheriff and his son. Thinking about Andy Griffith? Only if Andy is in jail for dealing drugs, Opie’s married and a deputy himself, Barney Fife is in charge and Aunt Bea doesn’t exist. In other words, this isn’t Mayberry.

 

Bobby Drake, deputy in Silver Lake, Washington, has a lot on his plate. He is tracking a rogue wolf through the Cascade Mountains, his marriage is strained and his father Patrick, a former Silver Lake sheriff, is newly free on parole after serving 12 years for his part in a drug smuggling ring. He is also moving in with Bobby. Add in a DEA agent who is determined to pin an unsolved murder and theft of a few hundred thousand dollars on Patrick, as well as a chilling pair of escaped convicts who are chasing after both Patrick and the money, and Bobby is stressed. Trying to understand why his father, an officer of the law, became a criminal strains the relationship between the two men to the point of breaking.

 

Waite’s writing is sometimes compared to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, with his matter-of-fact prose and tense stories which march along a seemingly inevitable path of increasing violence, creating a sense of both dread and anticipation for the reader. Loyalty and vengeance propel this father and son thriller as Sometimes the Wolf reveals that redemption can come when least expected.

Lori

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Justice Delayed

Justice Delayed

posted by:
November 17, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for Dear DaughterIn Dear Daughter, Janie Jenkins has the kind of life teenage girls like to read about in fan magazines. She’s famous for the parties she’s attended, the high-profile celebrities she’s gotten high with and the fabulous clothes she wears. Paris Hilton wishes she were Janie Jenkins. Until 16-year-old Janie sneaks into her mother’s closet, climbs into her mother’s best fashion boots and overhears a passionate argument. The next thing Janie remembers, she is covered with her mother’s blood and trying to explain this to the police.

 

Janie is known among her set as the girl most likely to steal your boyfriend. She may be popular in the press, but not among her peers. She is devious and her number one priority is herself. This may not be evidence of murder, but it sure gets you biased witnesses and an unsympathetic jury. Convicted of her mother’s murder, Janie spends 10 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Or, did she?

 

Released on a technicality, Janie follows clues she’s uncovered in the prison library databases. Pursued by the vulture press and obsessed bloggers who want her to pay for her evil act, Janie assumes the identity of a nerdy historian. In her new guise, she probes the past of the tiny gold-rush town her mother grew up in, proving that even the tiniest towns can hold deadly secrets.

 

Elizabeth Little’s debut thriller Dear Daughter brings a completely fresh perspective to the mystery scene. Her character exhibits the raw emotion of a traumatized teenager. Instead of compassion and therapy, she receives condemnation and punishment. Isolated and alone, Janie must battle her own demons in order to unearth the truth, no matter how horrific. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and William Landay’s Defending Jacob will appreciate the fast pace and moral conundrums. Climb into your favorite easy chair, you are about to pull an all-nighter.

Leanne

 
 

Between the Covers with Shelley Coriell

Cover art for The Buried by Shelley CoriellShelley Coriell continues her Apostles series with The Buried, a thriller built around a deadly game of cat and mouse. “It’s cold. And dark. I can’t breathe.” That’s what prosecutor Grace Courtemanche hears when she answers a call from a young woman who claims to be buried alive. Grace finds help in the form of Theodore “Hatch” Hatcher, her ex-husband and a member of an elite team of FBI agents. As Grace and Hatch try to find the woman at the other end of the call, they soon realize that they are caught at the center of a deadly game, and this is only Round One. Coriell’s Apostles series will appeal to both thriller and romance readers. It’s a perfect read for fans of Catherine Coulter, Tami Hoag and Elizabeth Lowell.

 

Coriell recently answered some questions for Between the Covers readers. Learn more about the maverick FBI agents who make up the Apostles and get her secret recipe for a kale salad that will wow your family this fall.

 

Between the Covers: This series revolves around an elite team of FBI agents nicknamed the Apostles. Tell us a little bit about them.
Shelley Coriell: Led by Parker Lord, a legendary FBI agent now wheelchair bound, the Apostles are an elite group of FBI agents who aren’t afraid to work outside the box and at times outside the law. They take on America’s vilest criminals, using the most powerful weapons known to mankind, the human mind…and heart. They aren’t good at following rules, and every Apostle I’ve met so far has either quit or been fired from the FBI before being personally recruited by Parker for his Special Criminal Investigative Unit. Parker Lord on his team: “Apostles? There’s nothing holy about us. We’re a little maverick and a lot broken, but in the end, we get justice right.”

 

BTC: Each member of the team has a unique area of expertise. How do the characters’ specialties impact your approach to the story? Do you do additional research to get into the right mindset?
SC: Each Apostle’s specialty is at the heart of each story. In The Buried, Agent Hatch Hatcher is a crisis negotiator and master communicator, so his book is very much about connecting with others. The Broken, book one in the Apostles series, features a criminal profiler or “head guy”, so that book is more of a puzzling who-done-it. As an author, I love the variety and scope of story possibilities with such a team.

 

As for research, I enrolled in a thirteen-week citizens’ police academy before writing a single word in the Apostles series and have a retired FBI agent I turn to with agency questions. I read law enforcement textbooks and do online research. After researching online how to make and disarm bombs for book three in the Apostles series, I’m sure I’m on some kind of government watch list.

 

BTC: The Buried opens with a young woman who has been buried alive. You’ve admitted that this is also one of your own fears. What is it about the idea of being buried alive that makes so terrifying? Did writing The Buried help you get over your fear or did it make it worse?
SC: Some people have anxiety dreams about forgetting their locker combinations or showing up for work without any pants. Growing up, I took anxiety dreams to the extreme and had reoccurring nightmares about being buried alive. I was terrified of not being able to breathe, perhaps because when it comes to human needs, air is primal and universal, even more so than food and water when looking at the amount of time we can live while being deprived of each.

 

While I no longer have dreams of being buried alive, this book certainly made me more cognizant of and grateful for the mundane task of breathing. While writing The Buried I woke up one night and was acutely aware of my husband breathing next to me. I remember placing my hand on his chest and feeling his chest rise. It was a surprisingly powerful but peaceful moment for me.

 

BTC: One of my favorite characters in this novel is Allegheny Blue, a very determined elderly hound who Grace frequently claims is “not her dog.” Was he inspired by any real canines in your life?
SC: Both Allegheny Blue and Ida Red were snatched straight from my childhood. My dad, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, raised hounds, and Blue, his 120-pound blue tick hound with paws the size of salad plates was a family favorite. Blue had a beautiful bellow, low and melodic, and I used to sneak him inside the house on cold nights and let him sleep by the fireplace. The bear-grease concoction Grace uses to doctor the pads of Blue’s torn paws is the same ointment my dad made for his dogs.

 

BTC: What’s next for the Apostles?
SC: Evie’s story, The Blind, which comes out in the summer of 2015. Evie Jimenez is the Apostles’ bombs and weapons specialist. She’s fiery, passionate and not afraid of things that go boom. In The Blind Evie travels to the gritty, eclectic Arts District of downtown Los Angeles where she teams up with a buttoned-up billionaire/art philanthropist to track down a serial bomber who uses bombs and live models to create masterful art that lives...and dies.

 

BTC: What is the best book you’ve read recently? What authors are on your personal must-read list?
SC: Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun. It’s the only book I read this year where I ceased being an author studying the craft of writing and simply lost myself in a good story. These days I read a good deal of narrative nonfiction, but in the fiction world, I like most authors named Sarah. Strange but true. I’m a huge fan of Sarah Dunant, Sarah Addison Allen and Sarah Dessen. Beyond the Sarahs, my go-to authors are Alice Hoffman, Lisa Gardner, Elizabeth Wein, Mary Pearson, Jeffery Deaver and Harlan Coben.

 

BTC: You’re a self-proclaimed foodie and a kale aficionado. Do you have a go-to kale dish to convert disbelievers?
SC: Even those with hardened hearts have fallen for my Fall Kale Salad. The secret is massaging raw kale with olive oil before adding the vinaigrette. It mellows the kale, which allows the other flavors to shine. I love serving this dish for the holidays. It’s so colorful and bursting with fall flavors.

 

 

Shelley Coriell's Fall Kale Salad

3-4 side servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

  • 2 shallots, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1 cup dried cranberries

  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

  • 2 tsp. honey or agave nectar

  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 bunch kale, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 cup roasted and salted pepitas

  • 1/4 cup goat cheese

 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat two tablespoons olive oil and sauté shallots until soft. Add garlic, cranberries, red wine vinegar, honey and lemon juice and heat through.

  2. Put kale into large bowl and massage with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

  3. Add shallot mixture to kale along with pepitas. Top with crumbled goat cheese.

 

 

 

Beth