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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 Recovered Alcoholic Abroad, or in Search of Robert Lewis Stevenson

Cover art for Headhunters on my DoorstepJ. Maarten Troost’s newest work of travel journalism, Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost, tackles foreign shores, classic literary giants and a newfound sobriety with the same sharp wit we’ve come to expect from the author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned with Savages and Lost on Planet China.

 

Again, Troost invites us along on his voyage to the South Pacific, but this trip promises to be immensely different. For one, his sole inspiration for this particular expedition is to follow Robert Lewis Stevenson’s own eccentric island-hopping excursions. On Hiva-Oa we stand over the stacked rocks of Paul Gauguin’s supposed grave, where Troost ruminates on the conflicting lives of the Post-Impressionist artist, both at once the freedom-loving painter and the syphilitic sexual tourist.  On Nuka Hiva we discover the hidden dangers of the land that include falling coconuts, tiger sharks and deceptive fellow rovers.

 

But what’s with Troost’s sudden interest in the life of the novelist who penned Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? What was compelling enough to set Troost trekking distant lands and sailing strange waters? The search for redemption. He asks us to “step back for a moment and consider our hero, Robert Lewis Stevenson. The first thing one gleans is that he does not mess around –no hemming and hawing for him, no dithering.”  

 

Troost, nearly one year sober, is testing not only his sea legs but his teatotaling fortitude which has held him back from both wrecking his marriage and ruining his life. Troost, while traveling on a boat of booze-guzzling shipmates, is not dawdling nor dithering in his search to better understand addiction. With candid humor, Troost dissects himself while also ruminating on the relationship between some of the great artists and writers and their own proclivities for drugs and the endless bottle.

 

For fans of classic Troost, there are still plenty of escapades including a pack of vicious village dogs, an underage Marquesan tattooist and the rogue cannibal. This travel memoir just offers a bit more; both a view into a wanderlust’s struggle with dependency and a hopeful tale of where the curiosity of the human might lead.
 

Sarah Jane

 
 

Lost on the Fringes

Lost on the Fringes

posted by:
September 18, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for Lost GirlsIn the eyes of society, five young women were lost even before they went physically missing and found dead. In Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, Robert Kolker vividly details not only a modern-day true crime case but also the stories of these women who slipped through the cracks of American society. Melissa Barthelemy. Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Shannan Gilbert. Amber Lynn Overstreet Costello. Megan Waterman. None of these became household names like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway did when they were reported missing. In fact, for several of them, their relatives had trouble being taken seriously by law enforcement. Yet all five women had personal histories, albeit with many common threads. They all grew up in towns without a lot of economic opportunities, they all had troubled family backgrounds, and several had children of their own they struggled to support. They all turned to prostitution as a way to make ends meet. And all of their bodies were discovered in the Oak Beach, NY area, a sparsely populated strip of land off the coast of Long Island.
 

Kolker masterfully interweaves the histories of these five women with suspenseful and frustrating elements of the crime investigation, including questionable detective work and an uncooperative beach town with secrets of its own. Ultimately, this is still a cold case, with speculation about whether all five died at the hands of the same person(s). Kolker also traces the evolution of prostitution, with women now being able to find clients through sites like Craigslist. This Internet business model belies the dangers that still exist in this line of work and has made it all the easier for those in desperate situations to sell themselves. For true crime fans, this is a book to read not only for the unsolved murders but for what it reveals about overlooked pockets of American life today.

Melanie

 
 

Powerful Words, Painful Stories

Powerful Words, Painful Stories

posted by:
September 13, 2013 - 7:00am

BuckMen We ReapedNew to the library shelves are two memoirs, both written by young and accomplished African-American authors, which reflect on the challenges of growing up black in the United States. MK Asante draws on his experiences as a child and teen in urban Philadelphia in his book BuckMen We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward, recounts her family life based mainly in the poor rural South. Each writer, however, portrays the same pain and difficulty of coming of age in communities which are reeling from the dual legacies of racism and the drug culture.

 

For generations, Ward’s extended family has lived along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and it is “home” for her no matter where she currently resides. Men We Reaped refers to her brother and four friends, all of whom died within a span of a few years from what Ward originally thinks are disparate causes: drug overdose, suicide, car accident, murder. Instead, as she tells each of their stories she finds the common thread is the desperation of being a young black male living in a region meting out race-based criminal justice, few economic prospects and the attendant breakdown of a once strong family and neighborhood structure. Ward, a 2011 National Book Award winner, is a gifted writer whose graceful style shines throughout her narrative of tragedy.

 

Asante’s Buck starts at a different place. Asante’s family is well-educated and middle-class. His father is a prominent professor, and he has an older brother whom he adores. By Asante’s teen years, his rebellious brother is incarcerated in Arizona, his parents’ marriage is in tatters and his mother is severely depressed. Asante finds a substitute family on the streets of North Philadelphia and begins a downward spiral. His mother enrolls him in an alternative school, which another student characterizes as “the island of misfit toys,” where Asante thrives. It is here where he determines he wants to write. Laced with quotes from Tupac to Orwell to Asante’s own hip-hop work and including excerpts from his mother’s journal, Buck is edgy, literary and blunt.  Asante, a professor at Morgan State University, is also a filmmaker who previews his book here

Lori

categories:

 
 

Access Old Hollywood

Rita Moreno: a MemoirAva Gardner: the Secret ConversationsThe Ear of the Heart: An Actresses’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy VowsThree starlets share very different stories of life during Hollywood’s Golden Age. In Rita Moreno: a Memoir, the actress recalls her childhood move from lush Puerto Rico to gritty New York City where she found her passion for singing and dancing. She made her Broadway debut at 13 and eventually headed to Hollywood where she changed her name and coped with constant typecasting.  Moreno shares the details behind her relationships with some of Tinseltown’s heaviest hitters, including Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, and Marlon Brando. Eventually, Moreno found happiness in marriage and motherhood and she remains one of the few performers, and the only Hispanic, to win two Emmys, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.

 

Two years before her death in 1990, Ava Gardner was strapped for cash and didn’t want to part with her jewels so she decided to sell her unvarnished story. She had a change of heart when she felt the conversations exposed her as too vulgar.  Her ghost writer Peter Evans unearthed those bawdy recollections and with permission of her estate shares them in Ava Gardner: the Secret Conversations. Readers will savor the particulars of her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, as well as her flings with George C. Scott and Howard Hughes (again!). Gardner, one of the great beauties to grace the silver screen, is no-nonsense and her stories are indeed salty, but she is also funny, frank and reflective.

 

Dolores Hart catapulted to fame when she starred opposite Elvis Presley in her 1957 film debut, Loving You. Nine films, a Broadway appearance, and several television roles later, Hart stunned the world when she turned away from Hollywood and her fiancé, and took the vows of a contemplative Benedictine nun.  In The Ear of the Heart: An Actresses’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows, Hart and co-author Richard DeNeut, share her insider’s perspectives of such wildly different worlds and her serenity shines through the pages. Check out God is the Bigger Elvis, the Oscar winning short film for more on the remarkable Mother Hart.  

Maureen

 
 

As Time Goes By in Charm City

Lost Baltimore cover artLost Baltimore by Gregory Alexander and Paul Williams pays homage to vanishing icons from the landscape of Baltimore’s past. Emphasis is on bygone buildings, but the authors also remember professional sports teams and businesses which left the city and impacted the livelihood of many denizens of Charm City. While tourists and residents see the Inner Harbor as the jewel in Baltimore’s crown and enjoy updated sports’ venues, this book sheds light on the dramatic changes to its skyline in just the past 150 years.  
 

The authors start in 1860 with the demolition of the First Presbyterian Church and continue through today with the virtual disappearance of arabbers in the city. Detailed text and rich images bring Baltimore’s past to life in this engaging coffee table page-turner. Mention is made of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 which destroyed so many buildings, lives and, indeed, the layout of the city. But the authors are careful to look at all aspects of life in Baltimore which have changed over the years. Enjoy reminiscing about cherished sports teams — the Baltimore Bullets left in 1973, followed by the Baltimore Colts a decade later. And whatever happened to the mysterious Poe Toaster whose annual visits ceased in 2009? It is the disappearing industries which have had the most impact on Charm City and its changing population. Major businesses which have left or are now defunct include the Baltimore Shipyards (1984), McCormick Spice plant (1989), Hutzler’s (1990) and Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point (2012).
 

This fascinating look at our city sheds light on societal changes and the evolution of Baltimore from a manufacturing and shipping capital to tourist and business center. Paging through this entertaining and informative book allows readers to step back and enjoy the Baltimore of old.

Maureen

 
 

The Dogs of Yore

Medieval Dogs cover artBritish historian Kathleen Walker-Meikle collects centuries-old examples of canine representation in her succinct but illuminating work Medieval Dogs, published by the British Library. While there has been considerable research into the earliest beginnings of the human/canine relationship, and countless looks into how dogs and people complement each other today, it is fascinating to look at the ways dogs were portrayed in what is considered to be a less enlightened historical time.
 

Brilliantly illustrated and well captioned manuscripts and paintings from around Europe are featured, along with brief but telling text. The pre-Renaissance art, without linear perspective, speaks to a bygone age. Stories of how dogs were part of abbey life among monks and nuns show a push/pull acceptance of the animals. In some cases, dogs were happily allowed to run free throughout abbeys, while in other cases, they were more grudgingly permitted — aside from sanctuaries and dining areas. As with medical treatment for humans, veterinary skills during the medieval years were basic and often fraught with suggestions that are chilling today. It's surprising to see how many breeds from our era, such as Greyhounds, terriers and spaniels, were already classified as early as the 16th century.
 

Loyalty is shown in many drawings of canines that remained with their fallen masters after a battle. Representations of the dogs in these and other illustrations (such as the many lapdogs depicted in royal settings) show how people of the period valued their animal companions. While rampant superstition during medieval times did not always portray dogs in the best light, their frequent appearances within the art and manuscripts of the period show the evolution of the human/dog relationship to what it now has become.

Todd

 
 

Hollywood Heist

Hollywood Heist

posted by:
August 27, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover Art for the Bling RingThe group that the L.A. Times dubbed “The Bling Ring” was an unlikely band of seven privileged, fame-obsessed teenage thieves who gained entry into multiple celebrity homes in 2008 and 2009 using information that was widely available online. Perhaps the most astonishing part of their crime spree was how long they were able to get away with it and how easy it really was. Entertainment journalist Nancy Jo Sales brings us the full story in The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped off Hollywood and Shocked the World.
 

Sales first published the story in a 2010 Vanity Fair article titled “The Suspect Wore Louboutins.” It is now expanded in this in-depth exposé. The thieves monitored their victims’ whereabouts using social media posts and websites like TMZ. They found the celebrities’ mansions using Google maps and a website mapping locations of celebrity houses. When they went to the victims’ homes, they found that many of the houses were unlocked or that the alarm systems were disabled, making it simple for them to enter the homes and take whatever they wanted. They stole about $3 million worth of clothing, jewelry and other property over the course of a year. The list of their victims is a who’s who of young Hollywood stars, including Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom. They reportedly broke into Paris Hilton’s house multiple times before they were apprehended.
 

The group’s crimes inspired the film, The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson and written and directed by Sofia Coppola, available on DVD in September.

Beth

 
 

Turning Over a Not-So-New Leaf

Turning Over a Not-So-New Leaf

posted by:
August 26, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Kale: The Complete GuideCover art for Fifty Shades of KaleAfter years of being relegated to uses as a soup green or worse, a plate garnish, kale has made a stunning comeback in the past few years. Darling of the dietary world, it frequently ranks near or at the top of the best foods for optimal nutritional impact and is thus often referred to as a “superfood.” Two new cookbooks focus on ways to use kale to maximum effect. The more no-nonsense of the pair, Kale: The Complete Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Superfood by Stephanie Pedersen, contains over 70 recipes divided into categories such as beverages, ways to incorporate kale into breakfast, lunch, snacks and even desserts that feature this bittersweet green. A helpful introductory section covers the types of the vegetable, techniques for selecting kale and its many nutritional benefits.

 

A more whimsical but no less informative cookbook is Fifty Shades of Kale: 50 Fresh and Satisfying Recipes That Are Bound to Please by Drew Ramsey and Jennifer Iserloh. Beautiful photographs of the many varieties of kale and the mouthwatering recipes themselves add to the allure. Mild winks to the book series the title references are included, but do not get in the way of the text or food. Appealing ideas such as kale and kiwi gazpacho; a warm kale salad with beets and ginger; and even chocolate chip kale cookies incorporate this newly rediscovered gem into contemporary recipes. One of the resources listed at the close of the book, thekaleproject.com, contains more recipes and assorted information to satisfy your “green tooth.”

Todd

categories:

 
 

Light for All

Cover art for Second SunsDavid Oliver Relin did not live long enough to witness the publication of his new book, Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives. It is a top-notch, inspiring account of two brilliant physicians from opposite ends of the world, one a Harvard-educated adrenaline junkie from America, and the other a disciplined trader's son from a remote Nepalese village. The unlikely duo combine their generous talents for one lofty goal: to cure preventable blindness. In 1995, they founded the Himalayan Cataract Project as a way to treat thousands of impoverished Himalayans in that isolated, mountainous region.

 

For ophthalmologists Geoffrey Tabin and Sanduk Ruit, the means to an end seemed simple yet difficult. In developing countries, cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness among the poor, including children. In wealthy countries, it is a common and treatable ailment of the elderly.  "Some conditions of existence are more painful than others," Ruit tells Relin. Ruit would know; growing up, the nearest doctor was a six-day-walk away. He watched as his siblings died of curable illnesses.

 

Relin transports readers to Ruit's temporary eye hospital, formerly a filthy military post in the village of Kalikasthan, where young and old shuffle in from scorching heat to have red-brown dust scrubbed from their faces. The high energy Tabin, who early on abandoned a medical career to pursue athletic passions, was inspired by Ruit. Together, their respective stories led the dynamic pair to their calling. Thousands have been cured with their simple surgery that costs a mere pittance.

 

Relin, who co-authored the now controversial bestseller Three Cups of Tea with Greg Mortenson, committed suicide in November 2012. In telling this compelling and hopeful story of two medical pioneers, the author was not immune to the poignancy of what he was witnessing. When an elegant 56-year-old seamstress, who was forced to sell her sewing machine, finally sees again, Relin thrust into her hands a wad of bills. "For a sewing machine," he said.

Cynthia