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The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On

posted by:
November 19, 2012 - 9:45am

The Round HouseBewildermentGoblin SecretsBehind the Beautiful Forevers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Sandy wrought substantial damage to the building housing the offices of the National Book Foundation in New York City. Despite this disruption, the Foundation, which is the presenter of the prestigious National Book Award prizes, held its awards dinner on November 14 and announced the winners in four different categories.

 

Native American Louise Erdrich won the top honor for Fiction with her book, The Round House. Taking place on a North Dakota reservation, The Round House is a sensitive coming of age story and an unflinching look at contemporary tribal life as well as a tangled legalese whodunit. This beautifully written selection was discussed earlier in Between the Covers, as was the winner in the Nonfiction category, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Boo, a journalist, stayed in one of Mumbai’s poorest slum communities for several years and carefully chronicled the stories of the people and families living as the have-nots in a city acknowledged to be the wealthiest in India.

 

National Book awards are also presented for Young People’s Literature, won by William Alexander for his tale, Goblin Secrets, and its Poetry prize was bestowed upon David Ferry for his volume entitled Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. As indicated by the eponymous title, eighty-eight year old Ferry includes both his original poems as well as his translations of other works which support the themes of his verses. Goblin Secrets is described by Kirkus Reviews as a mix of “steampunk and witchy magic” and features Rownie, a boy searching for his missing older brother in the city of Zombay. Opening with a witch who needs her clockwork chicken legs wound up with a crank so she can walk, Ferry has crafted a unique debut novel.

 

Lori

 
 

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

posted by:
November 19, 2012 - 9:05am

Grace Grows Grace Grows by debut novelist Shelle Sumners proves once again that opposites attract. After growing up in the wake of her parents’ ugly divorce, sensible Grace Barnum has worked hard to create an ordered world for herself. She knows that her life is on the right track. She has a safe job editing textbooks. Grace lives with her boyfriend Steven, a reliable patent attorney who she is comfortable with but isn’t certain she truly loves. She carries anything that she could possibly need throughout the day in her purse (which she calls Big Green), so she is never caught unprepared. Grace is a perfectionist, and she works hard to live up to her own expectations. Then, she meets her neighbor’s dogwalker Tyler Wilkie. Tyler is a musician who just moved to New York City. His life is as different from Grace’s ordered world as you could possibly imagine. As their friendship deepens, Grace is confused by her feelings for Tyler who writes beautiful songs to share his feelings about her from the start. Grace has to learn to let go of perfection and open her heart to the love and life that she wants and needs. Sumners tells the story of this slow-building romance with wit and honesty, making readers want Tyler and Grace to overcome the obstacles and find a way to be happy together. This is a love story that will appeal to fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner.

 

Tyler’s handsome exterior and poet’s soul charms the reader along with Grace. Sumners brings his voice to the novel through the soulful lyrics of his original songs, which were written by her husband, singer-songwriter Lee Morgan. The soundtrack to Grace and Tyler’s story is available on the author’s website.

Beth

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Tantalizing Tales of the Strange

I am an ExecutionerI Am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran is an unusual collection of nine stories that tackle love and ecstasy, each with elements of the grotesque. Each story becomes odder with each turn of the page. “The Infamous Bengal Ming” recounts one catastrophic day in the life a heart-breaking sincere tiger who finds himself irreversibly in love with his zookeeper, Kitch. Told from the tiger’s perspective, it becomes obvious that even the kindest of intentions can have deadly repercussions.In “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Golarajan” we find Gopi, who has recently been fired by CompUSA. He takes this opportunity to fulfill his dream of being a doctor by checking out medical books from his local library and opening his own practice in a filthy old pet store. In a cringing series of events, Gopi and his wife, Manju, become lost in the murky realms of pride, illness, and deception.

 

For readers who like exploratory narration, this rich, unsettling collection plays with nontraditional points of view and alternative storytelling. From the single collective voice of a community to a group of insects under attack from humans on their planet Lucina, each new world feels both familiar yet foreign. Although it is impossible to guess where Parameswaran will lead you, be assured, where you will end up will be like no place you’ve ever been. Be forewarned.

Sarah Jane

 
 

Adventure Comes Knocking

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual CompanionThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie GuideTolkien fans, it’s time to travel back to Middle-earth. The first installment in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Hobbit film trilogy is almost here, and the library has two exciting tie-in volumes just in time for the December 14 release. These stylish books complement each other perfectly and will be sure to delight. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual Companion begins with a charming foreword by Bilbo Baggins (actor Martin Freeman), and offers an introductory sneak peek at the film’s story. Everything you need to know about hobbits, wizards, dwarves, and elves is here, along with a visual tour of Bilbo’s home of Bag End among other locations. The centerpiece of this book is a detailed fold-out map of Middle-earth, which charts the company’s journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain. Beautiful color photos on almost every page immerse readers into Tolkien’s iconic fantasy universe.

     

For a behind-the-scenes look at the new film, turn to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie Guide. This book is bursting with details about every aspect of the film’s production. One fascinating section explores the “breakdown” department, where artists use sandpaper and even blowtorches to make the once-pristine costumes appear aged and worn. Exclusive interviews with the cast and crew are interspersed between the more technical chapters, a touch that keeps the book’s pace fresh and lively. Fans of The Lord of the Rings films will be happy to see that most of the creative team has returned for The Hobbit. Actor Andy Serkis steps behind the camera this time as second unit director, in addition to reprising his role of the tragic creature Gollum.

 

Alex

 
 

The Life and Trials of Amanda Knox

A Death in ItalyThe Fatal Gift of BeautyIt has now been a full year since Amanda Knox, tried and originally convicted of murdering her British roommate in Perugia, Italy, was freed from the Italian prison where she spent almost four years. In A Death in Italy: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case, John Follain provides an exhaustive look at the proceedings. He builds background,  from the personal histories of Knox, her roommate Meredith Kercher and others intimately involved with the case, to the details of Knox’s and Kercher’s first days in Perugia and their social activities in the days leading up to the attack. He then follows the investigation, trial and subsequent retrial, ending with statements from the courts as to why Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were both freed. A third person who was also convicted, Rudy Guede, remains in prison. 

 

Follain is a crime reporter, and at times the narrative can feel bogged down with details and interviews which are not particularly relevant to the investigation. But overall it provides a good perspective on the case, and shows where errors on both sides were made. It also is a solid testament to the emotional impact of the crime on involved individuals, even those not related to the victim or the accused. A good companion to this book is Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. It was published in 2011 before Knox’s and Sollecito’s convictions were overturned. Having lived in Perugia for the duration of the trial, Burleigh provides an impressive history of the Italian justice system, and how conservative religious theory, ancient paganism and organized crime all played a role in the outcome of the first trial. Both books are excellent reads for people interested in the case, and readers will return to the media version of the investigation and trials with a newfound perspective. 

Melanie

 
 

Like a Rainbow

Cyndi Lauper: A MemoirCyndi Lauper: A Memoir, is a satisfying and poignant account of the girl who just wanted to have fun. But as she writes in this account of her rise to superstardom and ongoing fame, her life has been more than the image she portrayed when she burst onto the international scene in the mid-1980s. Her music, outrageous style, and love of family and friends are represented in a conversational manner. The use of many asides, and the return to topics she had seemingly dropped earlier in chapters makes for a memoir that could be the transcription of a long, chatty visit across a kitchen table with an old friend.

 

From her beginnings in Queens, New York and the early bands that she sang with, Lauper’s path to stardom began gradually. But when her album “She’s So Unusual” struck a chord with the MTV generation, her stratospheric rise to the top of the pop charts was ensured. A string of hits were powered by memorable videos that seemed inescapable to MTV viewers, and her unmistakable voice made even the casual radio listener take notice. While never again matching the commercial success of her breakthrough album, more hits followed, including “True Colors”. The song later became an anthem for the GLBT community that Lauper has long associated herself with. She does not hesitate to discuss her personal life in detail, including her fond relationships with her family, the heartache of a long-term but eventually ill-fated romance with her one-time manager, and a path to find happiness. Lauper touches on the rivalry that never really existed with Madonna, and wonders how her life would have turned out had she permanently relocated to Australia after a tour there. Frankly written, this memoir shines a light on a celebrity everyone knows superficially but few know well.

Todd

 
 

A Love Letter to Spy Novels

A Love Letter to Spy Novels

posted by:
November 12, 2012 - 9:10am

The Double GameBaltimore author Dan Fesperman has written a tribute to classic spy novels - in the form of another spy novel. For espionage aficionados, Double Game is a dream book because Fesperman ingeniously scatters clues from classic spy thrillers throughout his riveting new book.

 

Reporter Bill Cage has been obsessed with spy novels since he was a boy. His father, a Foreign Service officer, introduced him to masters such as John Le Carre, Len Deighton, and Graham Greene. It is former spook and novelist Edwin Lemaster, however, who has the most impact on Cage, and the fictionalized Lemaster is the center of Double Game.

 

As a young journalist, Cage gets the interview of a lifetime with his idol, Lemaster. Unfortunately, in an attempt to please his new bosses, he ends up betraying the author. Fast forward many years later: Lemaster returns to Cage’s life in a most unexpected way. Cage begins to receive anonymous messages suggesting that the great Lemaster may have a dangerous past. These messages set Cage off on a chase that will reveal dark secrets from his own background.

 

Double Game stands on its own as a suspenseful, fast-paced spy story but much of its appeal is Fesperman’s homage to the genre itself. In referencing many of the very best spy novels, readers will want to search out classics they have overlooked and re-read old favorites.

 

Zeke

 
 

Eight Degrees of Manipulation

The Stockholm OctavoSome novels seem designed for escape, others for amusement, and yet others to satisfy an intellectual craving. Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo fits into none of these particular niches yet embodies the characteristics of them all by simply engulfing the reader. With each passing scene, Engelmann sweeps the reader further into to a richly-detailed hybrid of 18th century Swedish politics and mysticism.

 

Emil Larsson has fared well for himself in this world. A rising sekretaire, skillful gamer and thoroughly contented bachelor, Larsson is a man immersed in the pleasures and glory of Stockholm’s Golden Age.  However, destiny is about to deal Emil an altogether new hand. One night, shortly after learning he must give up bachelorhood to maintain his prestigious government post, Emil is approached by Mrs. Sparrow, the proprietress of his favorite gaming house. A known seer, Mrs. Sparrow tells him she has had a startling vision of his future and invites him to undergo the cartomancy ritual known as the Octavo.

 

The Octavo is a rare and delicate reading – granted to few and successfully wielded by yet fewer. Revolving around a singular life-changing occurrence and the eight people who will bring the event to pass, the Octavo is no mere game. It is a chance meeting of known destiny and free will.  And as Emil is about to discover, he is not the only player.

 

The Stockholm Octavo will appeal to a wide range of readers. A wholly original and dazzling blend of historical events, personal fortune, political intrigue and mysticism awaits readers who dare to follow Emil on his perilous journey.

 

Meghan

 
 

Deadly Crescendo

Deadly Crescendo

posted by:
November 9, 2012 - 8:08am

Little StarNot for faint hearts or weak stomachs, John Ajvide Lindqvist will be sure to terrify and delight horror fans with his unique brand of Scandinavian horror in Little Star.  Lennart and Laila Cedersrom were once a famous Swedish pop duo with a hit song.  As they grew older, their fame faded and they were left trapped in a disastrous marriage and with angry and bitter son. One fateful day, Lennart wandered into the woods to pick mushrooms, and he found an infant, left discarded, half buried and in a plastic bag.  He brings the infant home and gives her the moniker Little One.  Lennart has an ear for music, and soon he realizes that Little One emits the most beautiful notes. He believes she is destined to become a great singer. Afraid to call the police or social services in fear that they would take her away, Lennart and Laila keep Little One locked in the basement. They instill in her a fear of adults. She remains trapped for years, until she finally reaches adolescence.

 

In another part of Sweden we meet Theresa. As a girl, Theresa is quiet and doesn’t quite fit in socially.This becomes traumatic when she becomes older and begins to gain weight. She finds herself shunned and mocked at school, while even her one childhood friends finds a girlfriend and moves on. Theresa begins to withdraw from the world, creating online personas and trolling poetry sites. She becomes obsessed with a contestant on Sweden’s version of Idol, and is determined to meet this strange singer. When she finally meets Little One, a terrifying and dysfunctional friendship is formed. The novel examines the music industry, the effects of bullying, reality singing competitions and dysfunctional relationships and winds them together in a dark and terrifying package. Little Star is an unsettling read that will haunt readers long after they have finished the novel.

Doug

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Dark Secrets at The River House

Dark Secrets at The River House

posted by:
November 9, 2012 - 8:01am

Kept in the DarkThere is for each of us a place where we breathe easier, feel safer, and are most alive. It may be a quiet cabin in the mountains, a high-rise apartment in the city, or a cottage in the woods. Sonia’s place is The River House, a once beautiful three-story home along the Thames River in London. It is in this house that Sonia keeps her heart, her dreams, and her dark secrets in Penny Hancock’s Kept in the Dark. Other than sessions with her voice clients, Sonia spends much of her time at home alone. Her daughter has gone to university and her husband travels for work. It takes her by surprise when fifteen-year-old Jez, the nephew of her friend and neighbor Helen, arrives asking to borrow an old record album of her husband’s. Jez’s youth and beauty awaken memories that Sonia has worked hard to bury deep down, painful memories from her own youth. Long days spent on the river with her first love, Seb, come rushing back, and Sonia reacts by impulsively drugging Jez’s drink and holding him captive. Soon all of London is looking for the missing boy, never suspecting lovely, normal-looking Sonia. Long ago, Seb was taken from her, first by distance and then by a tragic river accident. This time, she will do whatever it takes to keep her young man safely with her forever.

 

Setting plays an essential part in Hancock’s writing, and both the house and the river are characters in this disturbing tale of obsession. Told alternately from the points of view of Helen and Sonia, we get a sense of the emotional instability of the human psyche as well as the various reactions people have under extreme stress. Like a horrific accident you cannot tear your eyes away from, Hancock dares you to look away as the many secrets unravel.  Fans of Sophie Hannah or readers looking for the next great dark thriller after Gone Girl will devour Kept in the Dark.

Sam

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