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Bloggers

 

Keys to the Castle

Outrageous  Fortune by Anthony RussellA dizzying amount of wealth permeates the stone fortifications in Anthony Russell’s entertaining new memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. What seems most important is what the wealth symbolizes and how it shapes the lives of those it cradles. Yes, the tweedy set flaunts its well-placed connections. There are pheasant-shoots, duck launches and tea-sipping beneath museum-bound tapestries. Not surprisingly, Russell admits there are also consequences to being reared in a "gilded bubble,” where everything material is handed to you. Russell aims to satisfy our curiosity.

 

For those not familiar with medieval fortresses, Leeds Castle is about as splendid as they come. Located in Kent, England, the former Norman stronghold with ties to six queens of England is among the most visited historic buildings in Britain. Its 900-year history is the stuff of fairy tales. Readers will appreciate the complement of black and white photographs.

 

The writer-musician Russell, who grew up in this milieu, was exposed to the stuff of kings at an early age thanks to his maternal grandmother and chatelaine, the bold, indomitable Lady Baillie. "Granny B" purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 for the American sum of $874,000. It is here that Russell spent his childhood in the 1950s, absorbing "the castle way." This included eccentric "ceremonies" like fussing over baby ducks and enduring family gatherings where no one paid him much mind. With such a privileged start, gearing up for adulthood beyond the castle gate would have its challenges.

 

Writing with wry humor, Russell alternates between being sardonic and wistful. He points out unapologetically some of the silliness while poignantly recalling the shear splendor of it all and gratitude for being a part of it. We get to know some of the uniquely British personalities (with names like Morg, Guysy-Wee and Mr. Elves) who help add the color that make this frank, behind-the-scenes look a delightful jaunt, just in time for the return of another extravagant household in Downton Abbey.

Cynthia

 
 

An Interview with Baltimore's Native Son

Cover art for Tales from the Holy LandBaltimore author Rafael Alvarez discusses his new book, Tales from the Holy Land, on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and writer for The Wire recently answered questions for Between the Covers about his latest collection of short stories on the magic of old Baltimore.

 

Q. Your new collection of short stories, Tales from the Holy Land, comes out this month. If you had to choose one story that epitomizes the gritty resolve of your hometown, what would it be?

A. "Junie Bug," in which a man spends his life digging in Leakin Park for the body of his father; and "The Sacred Heart of Ruthie," in which an orphan raised by the Oblate Sisters of Providence grows up to be a heart surgeon.

 

Q. This is your third collection of short fiction. What makes you favor short stories as your literary medium? How did this latest book come about?

A. I write fiction every day – about a half hour to an hour a day – in between the journalism and screenwriting I have to do to make a living. When I have enough for a new book I string them together and because I always use the same cast of "Holy Land" characters – Basilio, Grandpop, Nieves, Orlo and Leini, Miss Bonnie – it reads more like a novelized "mural" than stand alone short stories. [As a] side note, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro, works exclusively in the short story genre.

 

Q. As a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and former writer for the HBO cop drama, The Wire, you have witnessed a lot of Baltimore's heartbreak. How do you keep cynicism from overtaking your writing?

A. There are two, maybe three Baltimores within the city. I have lived in Baltimore for all of my 55 years – was educated here, raised my children here – and have never been the victim of a crime. I am thankful for that, but I'm not ignorant of how fortunate I am to have been born into the 1960s middle-class and not the entrenched underclass. I keep cynicism away from my art and my soul by means of hope, which I incorporate into both, by believing that the more you give away the more hopeful you become.

 

Q. Talk a little bit about your family background and its influence on your fiction writing.

A. The best answer to this question is found in the story The Fountain of Highlandtown, which won the 1994 Baltimore City Artscape fiction award and is included in Tales from the Holy Land.  The story was my first real success in the world of fiction and, in many ways, is the provenance for all of the stories to come.

Cynthia

 
 

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

Cover art for Mary Poppins, She WroteMary Poppins, Julie Andrews and Walt Disney: for most of us, the three are linked together with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, tea parties on the ceiling and Jane and Michael Banks of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. The name P.L. Travers, however, is recognizable by only the most diehard of Poppins fans, as she is the author of the Mary Poppins children’s book series, as well as the subject of the biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson.

 

P.L. Travers was born in Australia and christened Helen Lyndon Goff; she later adopted Pamela Lyndon Travers as a pseudonym. Travers valued her privacy, and felt protective of the Mary Poppins characters and stories. Lawson explains that each contained elements of Travers’ own rather peripatetic and often difficult life. Initially, Walt Disney encountered resistance from Travers when he approached her about adapting her Poppins books to a film version. The “real” nanny is sharp-tongued, mysterious, controlling and a bit vain. Travers felt Disney would “replace truth with false sentimentality” and called Disney’s movie-making “vulgar.” In the end, Disney’s coffers trumped Travers’ misgivings, and the Julie Andrews version of Mary triumphed on the silver screen.

 

Expect to hear more about P.L. Travers after the  December release of the new movie Saving Mr. Banks which follows Disney as he woos Travers for the film rights to the now-classic movie Mary Poppins.   
 

Lori

 
 

Dutch Invasion

Dutch Invasion

posted by:
November 14, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Girl With a Pearl EarringCover art for The GoldfinchLiterary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.  

 

Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.

 

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.

 

Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
 

Cynthia

 
 

To Turn a Blind Eye

To Turn a Blind Eye

posted by:
November 4, 2013 - 7:00am

Witnesses. Accomplices. Killers. One thing is clear from Wendy Lower’s chilling new book Hitler’Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fieldss Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. Regardless of the prism through which German women viewed the Third Reich’s maddening quest for racial purity few escape Lower’s dogged search for the answer to “why?”  Why did this “darkest side of female activism” rear its head and consume a generation of women that found themselves thrust into a war they did not want but nonetheless embraced for their own selfishness and ambition.

 

For the thousands of women coming of age in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the dividing line between home front and battlefront was practically nonexistent.  While most women found ways to distance themselves from the violence of the war, a third of the female population was actively engaged in a Nazi Party organization. Many volunteered to be sent to the Eastern Front where some of the worst atrocities against Jews were documented. Clerical, teaching and nursing jobs became the sinister underpinnings of the Nazi machine, where new career tracks beckoned young women seeking a steady paycheck. How these women, some barely out of their teens, others young mothers, evolved into indifferent bystanders or cold-blooded killers, is the thrust of Lower's dramatic account.

 

Lower sorts her 13 "main characters" into three categories: witnesses, accomplices and killers. It is the latter perpetrators of genocide that evoke the most study. Women like Johanna Altvater, a secretary  who lures Jewish children with candy only to shoot them, or Liesel Willhaus, wife of an SS commander who shoots Jewish slave workers from her balcony with her child in tow, are impossible to fathom. Lower, who is a Holocaust historian, explores shocking behaviors like these in this 68-year-old story of one of the most disturbing puzzles of women's behavior. Hitler's Furies has recently been named a finalist for the National Book Award.

Cynthia

 
 

Michael Palmer 1942-2013

Michael Palmer 1942-2013

posted by:
October 31, 2013 - 3:43pm

Cover art for The SisterhoodCover art for ResistantBest-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.

 

Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
 

Todd

 
 

Baltimore Native Tom Clancy, 1947-2013

The Hunt for Red OctoberBestselling author Tom Clancy passed away this week at the age of 66. A native of Baltimore and a Loyola College alumnus, Clancy is best known for his military and espionage thrillers. From the publication of his 1984 debut novel The Hunt for Red October, Clancy’s work helped redefine the modern thriller genre. That novel, which he sold to the Naval Institute Press for $5,000, went on to sell over five million copies. His books have inspired video games and several blockbuster movies including The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games and The Sum of All Fears.

 

Even after Clancy’s death, his iconic hero Jack Ryan will endure in his final novel Command Authority, which will be published in December. Jack Ryan, a new movie starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, will also be in theaters later this year.

 

In addition to his literary achievements, Clancy was vice chairman of Community Activities and Public Affairs and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. This moving obituary from The Baltimore Sun brings to light Clancy’s strong ties to Baltimore and his lasting impact on the community.

Beth

 
 

Playing God

Playing God

posted by:
October 1, 2013 - 7:00am

Five Days at MemorialNurse Cathy Green looked at the elderly lady lying on the asphalt floor of the hospital's parking garage. The lung cancer patient was wheezing. Her oxygen tank was near empty. The rattled nurse couldn't stand to watch this woman die just because no one came to rescue her, so she walked away. It is gut-wrenching scenes like this that stay with you in Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink's riveting, exhaustively researched account of what happened at one particular hospital following Hurricane Katrina.

 

For the doctors and nurses at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, the principles of the Hippocratic Oath were severely tested in the days following the storm when the floodwaters rose. Keeping the sick  alive became an exercise in ping-pong triage. Patients were controversially grouped for evacuation.  Rancid air and pitch-black interior rooms made conditions unbearable. Help was slow in coming. Complicating the picture was the "hospital within a hospital." LifeCare housed the most critically ill patients on Memorial's seventh floor. Who gets help first? Who is evacuated last? In Memorial's case, Fink attempts to contextualize what really happened after the hurricane and who was responsible for the 45 patients who died there under suspicious circumstances.

 

A medical doctor who has worked in disaster relief, Fink won the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for her 2009 article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial.” Published in The New York Times magazine, it chronicled the mercy killings at the hospital under horrendous conditions. In her book's shifting perspectives and reconstructed narrative, she places readers where they need to be: inside the mindset of those who were there. "We went into survival mode and were just trying to keep them alive with food and water," said a staff member. Readers who like their narrative nonfiction with some kick will find this issue-oriented page-turner of ethical choices made by a beleaguered staff a difficult read to put down.

Cynthia

 
 

The Passing of a Legend

The Passing of a Legend

posted by:
August 20, 2013 - 10:51am

Cover art for RaylanBestselling crime writer Elmore Leonard passed away today at age 87 following a stroke earlier this month. Leonard’s remarkable publishing career spanned six decades. His initial works were westerns, and the first of these was published in 1953. His most recent book, Raylan, featuring one of his most popular characters, was released in 2012.

 

Leonard’s colorful characters, strong dialogue and gritty, realistic settings quickly caught the eye of Hollywood. Twenty-six of Leonard's novels and short stories have been adapted for movies and television. Among his best-known works which made it to the big screen are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre and Rum Punch, which was filmed as Jackie Brown. Several of Leonard's short stories were also made into popular movies, including 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T. The current FX series Justified is based on short stories and novels featuring Leonard’s enduring character Raylan Givens, a deputy U.S. Marshal.

 

While maintaining a popular readership, Leonard also received critical acclaim. In November, Leonard received a Medal for Distinguished Contribution from the National Book Foundation. Other honors include a Peabody Award for the television show Justified, a Grand Master Edgar Award and a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

Check out some of the titles available in a variety of formats by this legendary author.

Maureen

 
 

Francis Ray

Francis Ray

posted by:
July 5, 2013 - 9:24am

After the DawnAll That I NeedRomance writers and readers are grieving the loss of a beloved author this week. Francis Ray, who wrote more than 50 contemporary romances, recently passed away. Her books have often appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Essence bestsellers lists. Throughout her long career, Ray won several awards including a Romantic Times Career Achievement award.

 

Two new books by Ray were published this summer. After the Dawn, the third book in her Family Affair series, brings together two unlikely characters to save a family business. Samantha Collins is shocked when her grandfather leaves her in charge of Collins Industry and also asks Dillon Montgomery, the man Samantha has been in love with for most of her life, to help her. Years ago, Samantha’s grandfather fired Dillon and cut ties with him, and Sam and Dillon haven’t been in contact since an awkward encounter years ago. Can the two of them make this work? All That I Need is the latest entry in Ray’s long running Grayson Friends series, which remains a fan favorite. This story features Lance Saxton and Fallon Marshall, two people who live very different lives. Both are forced to reexamine their priorities when they meet and fall in love.

Beth