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A Tale of Many Strengths

The World's Strongest LibrarianLibraries are often thought of as quiet places, with librarians acting as shushing gatekeepers, bespectacled and soft. Josh Hanagarne, a Utah librarian, doesn’t quite fit the stereotype. At 6 feet 7 inches tall, he lifts weights and can bend horseshoes with his hands. He can have trouble with the quiet part, too; he has struggled with Tourette Syndrome since elementary school. Hanagarne writes about strength training, Tourette’s, his Mormon faith, dating, and his urban public library experiences in The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family.

 

At six, Hanagarne’s parents noticed him repeatedly touching his lip to his nose while onstage during a school play. This initial involuntary movement bloomed into a variety of motor and verbal tics as he entered his teens. Encouraged by his father, he started gym workouts in an effort to exert control over the disorder as well as combat some of the hopelessness he feels when the tics are particularly troublesome. Here, “troublesome” can mean self-injurious, drawing blood, and he notes that his neurologist states that Hanagarne’s case is the most severe he’s seen.

 

Hanagarne, however, has not written a pity party. He is both an avid reader and a gifted writer and while parts of his story are heartbreaking, much of it is insightful, fascinating, and downright funny. His chapters are named with the Dewey Decimal classification numbers of the subjects contained within. Chapter 7 is "646.78 Marriage", which bodes well since Chapter 3 is "305.31 Lust Religious Aspects Christianity". He shares his evolving views on religion, his fears for his son, and his involvement with weight lifting and body awareness as a means to control his uncontrollable movements. His trenchant observations about public libraries and their patrons illustrate both the diversity of library users and his beliefs that enrich the lives of all those who walk through their doors. He also shares his thoughts and offers bookish advice on his blog also named The World's Strongest Librarian.

Lori

 
 

Mommy Scariest

Mommy Scariest

posted by:
May 9, 2013 - 7:01am

Motherhood Comes NaturallyShe’s back! Baltimore’s own Jill Smokler, also known as Scary Mommy, returns with a second book: Motherhood Comes Naturally (and other vicious lies). This irreverent and humorous journey through pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood will have mothers everywhere nodding in agreement - and in frequent fits of laughter. Each chapter is headed with common advice or words of wisdom (read: lies) often given to mothers and especially to first-time parents. Just a few examples of chapter titles: “You’ll Be Back to Your Old Self in No Time”, “You’ll Get More Sleep When They Are Older”, and “Going from Two to Three Kids Is a Breeze”. Smokler tackles each of these oft-quoted pieces by sharing her own experiences, which, as the book’s title suggests, provide strong evidence to the contrary.

 

Scary Mommy started as a blog, which Smokler began in order to keep herself sane as a stay-at-home mom with three kids (Lie #19: “Being Home With Your Kids Is the Most Fulfilling Job”). She developed an online following, and eventually published her first book, Confessions of a Scary Mommy. At turns wittily sarcastic and reflective, Motherhood Comes Naturally shows that one can feel driven to insanity by their kids, but of course still love them. Appreciating that motherhood is neither perfect nor precious, Smokler encourages mothers to build camaraderie and support each other, not tear each other down about different parenting styles. For those with a sense of humor and a willingness to embrace the mommy role with all its flaws, this book is for you. And to all the mommies out there: Happy Mother’s Day! (but know that “Mother’s Day Is All About You” is Lie #14.)

Melanie

 
 

Dem Bones

Dem Bones

posted by:
May 6, 2013 - 8:15am

The Crypt ThiefTake one American working as the head of security at the Paris embassy, add one psychologically disturbed killer suffering from a traumatic past life and throw in a murder in the historic Père Lachaise cemetery, close to the final resting spot of Jim Morrison, and you will find yourself in the middle of The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor, a cracking good thriller featuring Hugo Marston. Hugo is an accomplished profiler, so when an American tourist is shot while apparently sightseeing in the cemetery, he is immediately notified. The victim turns out to be the son of a United States senator. When the woman he was with is identified as a Pakistani traveling on a false passport, red flags are raised and the embassy begins to fear the work of terrorists. Hugo is not convinced. The crime itself does not strike him as being the work of a professional assassin. The type of weapon, the location of the wounds on the body, and the apparent removal of a tattoo on the woman’s arm all point to someone with a more personal interest in the victims. The senator doesn’t hold with this theory  and wants to not only release information to the press that may cause a city wide panic, but also begin a manhunt for the female victim’s traveling companion who may have links to terrorist groups. Hugo must work quickly to solve the crime before all hell breaks loose.

 

The Crypt Thief is the second in the Hugo Marston series that started with The Bookseller. Pryor creates an interesting thriller featuring a demented killer with added elements of investigation that will appeal to mystery lovers. He also includes interesting tidbits about the city of Paris, so readers who appreciate good detail about the locale will find plenty to enjoy.

 

Doug

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Making One's Peace

Making One's Peace

posted by:
May 6, 2013 - 7:55am

Life After LifeWhoever said growing old gracefully was easy has not met the residents of Pine Haven Estates, a retirement community in Fulton, North Carolina. Decisions regretted and bittersweet memories are countered with surprising friendships and old fashioned orneriness. The confederate jasmine and wisteria arbor may shield the cemetery next door, but Pine Haven residents know it is the next stop. Oh well, such is life and death in Jill McCorkle’s stirring new novel, Life After Life, where the challenge to keep from disappearing meets the desire to embrace life at any age.

 

McCorkle, whose previous five novels were New York Times notable books, has loaded this, her first novel in 17 years, with quirky, well-drawn characters from both in and out of the retirement village. Making sense of it all is hospice volunteer Joanna Lamb, who ensures that dying residents are not forgotten. Arriving after her own tough spell, Joanna is there for their last day in the sun, "one more song, word, sip of water" before they pass. So she holds the hands of the dying and writes in her journal touching, eloquent remembrances of those who have died. For the eccentric group of residents still around, life remains a journey defined by their own choices. A former lawyer who feigns dementia, a retired school teacher who thinks everyone is really eight-years-old at heart, a Jewish resident from up north who wonders how she ended up in "the land of quilts and doilies," are among the repertoire of voices. Youth, too, passes through Pine Haven, as seventh grader  Abby prefers the residents to spending time with friends her own age, and a tattooed young mother named CJ does pedicures to escape her own past.

 

At times witty and other times poignant, McCorkle's brief narratives show off her penchant for short story form, along with the soul-searching that takes place when the life one has always known coalesces with the realities of aging. Fans of this southern writer are likely welcoming her return.

Cynthia

 
 

Don't Give Up... Don’t Ever Give Up

All You Could Ask ForMike Greenberg is best known as one-half of ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning. But here, in his debut novel, All You Could Ask For, Greenberg leaves sports behind and hits a home run with this powerful novel about three women connected by cancer. Meet Samantha, Katherine, and Brooke, who share Greenwich, Connecticut as their hometown but are all at different places in their lives. Samantha is twenty-eight and two days into her honeymoon she discovers pictures of a naked woman in her husband’s email. Nude photos are also on Brooke’s mind. At forty, and after fifteen years of marriage and two kids, she is trying to muster the courage to present her husband with a personal portfolio featuring her and not much else. Finally, there is Katherine, a high-powered executive with a fabulous lifestyle. Her only problem is that her boss is the man who broke her heart eighteen years ago. Each woman works through her issues and gradually reaches resolution and happiness.

  

Those flashes of bliss are soon shattered as each receives a diagnosis of cancer and must face the disease head on. It is through a support group message board that the three meet and share their anger, fear, and hope for the future. The posted messages add more depth to each of these women as their innermost thoughts are revealed. These realistic, modern women struggle with the disease, treatment options, and side effects, yet they are strong and courageous. As their friendship grows, so does their spirit as each resolves to experience more “best days” of their lives. Perhaps the women’s voices are so honest because Greenberg, like so many of us, has personal experience with cancer and wrote the book to honor the memory of a close friend. Greenberg and his wife are donating all of the author proceeds to The V Foundation for Cancer Research

 

Maureen

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Entropy Prevails

Entropy Prevails

posted by:
May 3, 2013 - 7:01am

Care of Wooden FloorsHousesitting is a rather ambiguous sort of activity. It isn’t really a proper job but it still comes with enough responsibilities to prevent the time spent from ever truly transforming into a vacation. Some people are better at handling this tension between obligation and pleasure than others, and occasionally accidents happen. A crystal glass might become broken, or a nick or two may appear in a previously flawless expanse of plaster. But take a particularly fragile home and add a more-than-usually disorderly house sitter and you don’t just face an accident or two; you court utter disaster. Will Wiles, in his debut novel Care of Wooden Floors, hilariously portrays the panic, guilt, and misery that one such hapless house sitter experiences during the gradual devolution of his friend’s pristine flat into complete chaos.

 

Wiles’ protagonist, who remains unnamed, is doing a favor for Oskar, an old school chum, by staying in his flat for a few weeks while he travels to LA to finalize his divorce. The house sitter, who is from London, takes an instant dislike to the (also unnamed) Eastern European city that the flat is in and is less than attentive to the many notes that the persnickety Oskar has left regarding the proper care of his two cats, his grand piano, and his precious pale wooden floors.  Less than twenty four hours into his stay, Oskar’s meticulously maintained home has already been marred by the faint blush of a tiny wine glass stain, one that Oskar is sure not to miss.  And that is just the beginning of a slowly escalating week of mishaps and casual negligence that contains as many surprises as it does calamities. This madcap misadventure is sure to delight fans of Matthew Dicks’ Something Missing, as well as psychological drama aficionados and screwball comedy enthusiasts.

Rachael

 
 

Just Add Preschooler

Instant MomActress Nia Vardalos won seemingly overnight stardom and acclaim with her first movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which she also wrote. Although she seemed on top of the world, there was one thing missing from her life—a child. Married to fellow comedic actor Ian Gomez, Vardalos tried for over a decade to become a mother. In the funny and touching new memoir Instant Mom, she chronicles the journey that led the pair to the adoption of their daughter, and shares with the reader the transformative experience that is motherhood.

 

Despite the title, there was nothing “instant” about Vardalos’ becoming a mother. Much of her professional success in life, she admits, is due to her stubborn nature and her refusal to take “no” for an answer. She admits to translating the meaning of the word as “try a different way.” Five years of devastating miscarriages led her to many more years of IVF treatments and even attempts with a surrogate. She kept this personal heartbreak hidden from the media even as millions embraced her as an actress they could immediately relate to, a Greek-Canadian girl next door.

 

Vardalos’ humorous, approachable tone makes Instant Mom a page-turning read, and when she decides to explore adoption via foster care, you know that this will finally be the answer. When she receives the phone call confirming that they have been approved to adopt a three-year-old little girl, she and her husband have just fourteen hours to prepare for her arrival. From this point, the book becomes a love story, one filled with trial and error as well as joy and frustration as the family gets to know one another and settles into the routines of everyday life. Instant Mom is a memoir of hard-earned motherhood with just a dash of Hollywood name-dropping, a book with wide general appeal.

Paula G.

 
 

Reconciliation

Letting It GoLetting it Go is Miriam Katin’s gorgeous new graphic novel, in which she tries to come to terms with her past as a Holocaust survivor. Due to her past, Katin had come to despise all things German. When her son moves to Berlin, she realizes she must somehow come to terms with Germany if she is to maintain a relationship with her son.

 

Born in Hungary during the Second World War, Katin eventually immigrated to Israel in 1957 where she worked as a graphic artist for the Israeli Defense Forces. She went on to work for the MTV Animation and Disney Studios. She wrote her first graphic novel, We Are On Our Own, at the age of 63.  Although Katin is writing about very heavy subject matter, the overall tone and art remain fairly light and at times, humorous. At once literary and accessible, Letting it Go reveals Katin’s daily life with her husband in New York while calling on the likes of Kafka to reveal her inner fears.

 

Done in colored pencil, Letting it Go works exceedingly well as a graphic novel. Katin is able to reveal details and nuance in her art, letting us inside her psyche. The mostly panel-less comics flow nicely with the fairly free-form text. The mix of black and white and color also nicely juxtaposes past and present. Like Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, this would make an excellent introduction to nonfiction graphic novels.

 

 

Zeke

 
 

Taken by the Flood

Taken by the Flood

posted by:
April 29, 2013 - 8:15am

Evidence of LifeHow do you finally let go when you lose what matters most? This is the question asked by Barbara Taylor Sissel in her new novel Evidence of Life. When Abby’s husband Nick decides to take their daughter on a camping trip, Abby is thrilled that he wants to spend more time with his daughter. After they leave, the skies darken and the weather takes a turn for the worse. Roads are blocked with debris, major flooding ensues and emergency services warn travelers to stay off the roads. Abby receives a disturbing phone call from her daughter Lindsey, who tells her in a scared and distressed voice that they have traveled through San Antonio, Texas, a city far from their intended route. This is the last that Abby would hear from Nick or Lindsey.

 

Everyone is quickly presuming that Nick and Lindsey are dead, even though their bodies have not been recovered. Abby wants to give up the search and begin the grieving process, but there are too many unanswered questions. Her son Jake becomes distant, making fewer trips home from his college. Abby’s best friend Kate, though sympathetic, also seems to know more than she is telling. Nick was a lawyer on a high profile case and some suspect him of absconding with a great deal of money. Could Nick and Lindsey still be alive? Abby’s friends and family are skeptical and urge her to declare them dead and plan a memorial service, but Abby chooses a different path. She will keep searching until she uncovers the truth.

 

Evidence of Life is a suspenseful mystery with many twists and turns. Barbara Taylor Sissel creates an engaging main character in Abby, whose inquisitive nature pulls the reader through the story as we discover the truth along with her. Fans of Mary Higgins Clark will definitely find something to like in this novel.

 

Doug

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Out of Africa

Out of Africa

posted by:
April 29, 2013 - 7:55am

The Ashford AffairA Spear of Summer GrassLauren Willig’s new stand-alone novel The Ashford Affair is a departure from her well-known Pink Carnation series. The story, which the Library Journal says combines an “Out of Africa sensibility with a Downton Abbey cast,” takes readers from the English countryside before World War I to 1920s Kenya and 1990s New York City. Clementine “Clemmie” Evans is a successful, overworked attorney whose personal life is a mess. As Clemmie’s ninety-nine-year-old grandmother Addie nears the end of her life, Clemmie stumbles upon a secret from Addie’s past. A family member hints to Clemmie that there may be more to the story than meets the eye, and Clemmie begins to investigate Addie’s life story. Addie grew up in England on her uncle’s estate as a poor orphan taken in by her rich family. Addie and her effervescent cousin Bea grew up to be best friends and close confidants, but with time came change. As Clemmie learns about Addie’s past, it begins to influence her own future. The Ashford Affair is a multi-layered love story that will enchant fans of Kate Morton.

 

What are the odds that two authors would leave behind their popular series and write stand-alone novels set in the same place in the same time? While at a conference, Willig met her friend Deanna Raybourn for cocktails. When the discussion turned to their work, both were surprised to discover that their latest projects were set in 1920s Kenya. Raybourn’s new novel, A Spear of Summer Grass, is the story of Delilah Drummond, a socialite whose family banishes her to Kenya to avoid a scandal. Delilah quickly connects with a group of British ex-pats, but a murder within her group forces Delilah to make an important choice. These two novels are a perfect pairing for a literary getaway.

 

Beth

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