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Move Over, Holden

Kasher in the RyeIn Moshe Kasher’s new memoir Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16, the stand-up comic chronicles his renegade, drug-addicted adolescence in California during the early ’90s with a careful balance of humor and painful honesty.

 

Following his difficult childhood – the challenge of having two deaf parents, starting therapy sessions when he was just six years old, and being dragged by his mother on a “vacation” to California that ends up being more like abduction – Kasher feels hopelessly broken and lost. He finds it impossible to fit in at his Oakland public school, so he gets involved with the wrong crowd and starts a downward spiral of gang violence, theft, vandalism, and drug use, all before he is even old enough to drive. It isn’t until several near-death experiences and three stays at a children’s psychiatric hospital that Kasher finally decides to turn his life around. But even with his new determination, how can he learn to break this tragic cycle if a life of confusion, anger, and self-destruction is all he knows?

 

Moshe Kasher manages to tell his story in a way that’s hilarious and heartbreaking without ever becoming sentimental. The anecdotes he tells of his wayward youth will have readers laughing at the ridiculousness of it all while rooting for Kasher throughout his journey. If you are a fan of David Sedaris’ essays or Bill Clegg’s memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, you will find much to enjoy in this honest, funny, and redemptive true story.

 

 

Alex

 
 

Double Trouble

Double Trouble

posted by:
June 29, 2012 - 8:30am

Gone, GirlCanadaEagerly anticipated by readers, Pulitzer prize winner Richard Ford and best-selling suspense writer Gillian Flynn have each released a new book in time for summer reading. Flynn’s Gone Girl is a dually narrated tale of a marriage gone wrong with a thriller's edge. Ford’s latest novel, Canada, is a coming of age tale from a master wordsmith.

 

In Gone Girl, we are introduced to couple Nick and Amy. Once darling newlywed writers living a charmed life in New York City, they’ve relocated to Nick’s decidedly less urbane Missouri hometown after the rise of the internet leads to the demise of their magazine employers. Nick buys a neighborhood bar with his twin sister Margo while unemployed Amy chafes at the constraints of a small town lifestyle. Amy disappears and naturally, husband Nick becomes the prime suspect. The couple takes turns telling the story; Nick’s present tense accounts alternate with the backstory provided by Amy’s journal entries. Fans of Gillian Flynn know she does not write for the gentle reader, as her style is taut with sharp edges, raw language, and keen observations into the darker, hidden bits of the human psyche.

 

In Canada, Richard Ford also introduces a set of twins, Dell and Berner, brother and sister respectively. Author of the lauded Bascombe trilogy, Ford’s prose is clear and direct without being spare and complements both the prairie setting and plot-driven story recounted by Dell.  The Montana twins’ parents uncharacteristically rob a bank and end up in jail; Berner runs off, leaving Dell to be smuggled over to an unsavory family friend in Saskatchewan. Dell’s journey becomes more than a trip across the border as he comes to terms with his parents’ actions, loss of family, and a new, unasked-for life on a rough fringe of society.

 

Lori

 
 

On Foreign Shores

On Foreign Shores

posted by:
June 29, 2012 - 8:01am

Don't Cry Tai LakeThe StonecutterFans of mysteries set in exotic locales will be in luck this month, with two new mysteries from faraway lands.

 

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong is set in Wuxi, China and features Inspector Chen Cao, the chief inspector of the Shanghai police department.  Inspector Chen earns a much needed vacation and heads to a private resort on Tai Lake, only to discover that the lake is heavily polluted by the toxic runoff from local manufacturing plants. Soon the director of one of these plants is found murdered, and an environmental activist is accused. A young woman named Shanshan is certain that the suspect is innocent and enlists Inspector Chen’s help in solving the crime.

 

Qui Xiaolong was born in Shanghai but now lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his family and currently writes his novels in the English language. Don’t Cry Tai Lake is the seventh novel featuring Inspector Chen, and brings awareness to the very real problem of water pollution in China. The series began with Death of a Red Heroine in 2000.

 

Bundle up and head to Sweden to discover The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg. This novel features detective Patrick Hedstrom who travels to Fjallbacka to solve the murder of a little girl who was found in a fisherman’s net. Fjallbacka is a quiet resort town, idyllic on the surface, but containing dreadful secrets. The murder of Sara Florin will change the lives of the residents of the town and threaten to tear Fjallbacka apart. 

 

The Stonecutter is the third in the Patrick Hedstrom series, following The Ice Princess and The Preacher. Lackberg was an economist in Stockholm, Sweden, but quickly realized her dream was writing crime novels. Today she is one of the top female authors in Sweden. She was born in Fjallbacka in 1974 and with The Stonecutter she revisits her childhood home.

 

If you can’t take a vacation to these exotic locales this summer, be sure to visit them in these great new mystery novels.

Doug

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A Divided Cultural Identity

A Divided Cultural Identity

posted by:
June 29, 2012 - 7:01am

Drifting HouseKrys Lee's fiction debut, Drifting House, is a unique collection of gritty short stories that examines the lives of Koreans and Korean Americans, from post WWII to present day. In “The Salaryman,” a man is fired from a bankrupted company and decides to join the other countless men who have turned to homeless life on the streets to avoid bringing shame upon their families.  In preparation for a meeting with his estranged wife, he attempts to disguise his new life by shining his briefcase and spraying himself with a department store’s sample of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne. 

 

The term “goose father” originated during the Vietnam War to describe the Korean soldiers fighting for the U.S. army who sent money back to their families. In a story of the same name, Gilho Pak, a successful accountant, leads a solitary and hardworking existence in Korea to support the education of his wife and children who are studying overseas in America.  His ideas of life, happiness, and sexuality are all disrupted when he decides to take a tenant, the youthful and intuitive Wuseong who arrives with an injured pet goose tucked under his arm.

 

Notions of home, family and collective national identity are challenged as the reader follows the mother who fakes an American marriage in search of her kidnapped daughter, and journeys with the young siblings trekking to China to escape North Korea’s famine. Readers who enjoyed Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker or Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake will appreciate Lee’s ability to depict her many distressed characters with grace and anomalous humor.  Although the characters in these nine evocative tales vary greatly in age, social rank, and motive, each will stay with you long after you’ve put down the book.

Sarah Jane

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The Real Executive of Bravo

Most TalkativeAndy Cohen has been instrumental in creating many of Bravo’s hit reality shows, like The Real Housewives and Top Chef. He hosts Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, a talk show that’s essentially a live cocktail party where Cohen chats with tipsy celebrities and “Bravolebrities”.  His new memoir Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture reveals more about the man that his viewers already think of as a friend.

 

Cohen’s love of the television industry always shines through, from his life-long obsession with All My Children to his time working for CBS news. He shares how went from a boy hosting a fake talk show with a hair brush “microphone” in the backseat of his uncle’s car to the Executive Vice President of the Bravo reality TV empire. His continued excitement over meeting his celebrity idols like Joan Collins, Susan Lucci, and Diana Ross makes him very relatable to readers. Most Talkative also shows a more personal side of Cohen as he shares his emotional struggle with his decision to come out as gay to friends and family. 

 

Real Housewives fans will love that Cohen dishes about the ladies and what things are really like behind the scenes of the shows. He covers the creation of the first Real Housewives, and how it grew to include seven franchises today. Fans will love to see more about how the women interact and find out which ones Cohen didn’t want to include on the show.  What really happens at the legendary Real Housewives reunion tapings?  Read Most Talkative to find out!

Beth

 
 

City of Light and Transformation

Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me DownDreaming in FrenchAs a child, Rosecrans Baldwin went to Paris with his family and became transfixed by its beauty. Later, as a twenty-something, Baldwin uses a connection to secure a job at an ad agency in Paris in need of a native English speaker. In the humorous and breezy memoir Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, he moves himself and his wife Rachel to France, where initially all the brilliance and luster of the City of Light shines upon them. That is, until he realizes that his facility with French isn’t quite as strong as he thought. Too quickly, the countless hassles of daily life in another culture start to take their toll. Bureaucratic red tape is overwhelming. Despite these obstacles, the small joys of Parisian life constantly astound the young couple. Baldwin manages to write his debut novel (the since-published You Lost Me There), adding his name to the long list of Americans finding creative inspiration in Paris.

 

A very different look at the expatriate-in-Paris experience is Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Alice Kaplan describes post-war Paris and the many Americans who were inspired to travel to Paris for varying lengths of time. Each of the three women she focuses on came to Paris for a year to study abroad. The city made an indelible impression on their futures, whether it was the “Frenchness” Jackie Kennedy later brought to the office of First Lady, or how the intellectualism of the city reinvigorated Susan Sontag’s writing and sense of purpose. The political upheaval Angela Davis witnessed in France inspired her to play an integral role in the Civil Rights movement back home. The transformative power of place is clearly displayed in this look at the ways we can become products of our environment.

Todd

 
 

Welcome to Spindle Cove

Welcome to Spindle Cove

posted by:
June 26, 2012 - 8:30am

A Night to SurrenderA Week to be WickedRomance author Tessa Dare is one of the most popular up-and-coming Regency romance writers today. Her feisty, educated heroines and witty banter have quickly made her a fan favorite. Dare says that her new Spindle Cove series was inspired by the militia coming to Meryton in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Spindle Cove is a fictional seaside town where rich families send their daughters who don’t fit into society for one reason or another. Life changes for everyone when a militia is raised to defend Spindle Cove.

 

The first novel in the series, A Night to Surrender, is a finalist for the 2012 RITA Award for Regency Historical Romance. Victor Bramwell, the Earl of Rycliff, is injured in battle and sent to Spindle Cove (a.k.a. Spinster Cove) to raise a militia to defend the coast. Bram wants to be anywhere else, preferably in the field of battle, but he will follow his orders here in Spindle Cove.  Susanna Finch wants to keep Spindle Cove a safe haven for intelligent, unusual women, and Bram’s militia may ruin everything. Susanna and Bram are immediately attracted to each other, but battle lines are quickly drawn as each of these two characters has so much to lose.

 

The second Spindle Cove book, A Week to Be Wicked, was recently released. Bluestocking Minerva Highwood has a proposition for Bram’s good-for- nothing cousin Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne. The two of them will pretend to elope to Scotland, but in reality they will travel to Edinburgh to present Minerva’s fossil findings at a geological conference. When Minerva’s presentation wins the prize, Colin will receive Minerva’s winnings. The two of them end up on a crazy road-trip that changes them both forever. This novel is a hilarious, sexy romp through the countryside that will delight readers. 

 

Beth

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As the World Slowly Turns

As the World Slowly Turns

posted by:
June 25, 2012 - 8:30am

The Age of MiraclesWho among us hasn’t wished for more hours in a day?  In The Age of Miracles, debut author Karen Thompson Walker presents a world in which having more time is taken to the extreme. For no apparent reason, the earth has slowed its daily rotation, lengthening the day by a few minutes. This “slowing” continues to grow incrementally, and the days and nights grow longer. Society divides itself into two groups: “real-timers” who follow the sun, sleeping whenever it is dark and staying awake when there is light, and “clock-timers” who live by the standard 24-hours-in-a-day system and adhere to a regular schedule for school, work, and sleep. As time goes on and on, real-timers are bullied and eventually forced to move into communes. 

 

People soon begin to realize how disastrous the consequences of more time can be. Power outages, food shortages, environmental changes, behavioral problems and physical and mental illnesses plague people worldwide. Both societal groups eventually suffer from the seemingly endless days and nights as the struggle to be right becomes the struggle to survive.

 

The Age of Miracles is told from a young girl’s point of view, though this is not a children’s story. Julia experiences all of the catastrophic environmental changes through the filter of her own life, which is filled with the everyday challenges of growing up.  Julia comes to realize that no one is perfect as she watches her friends, family members and community deal with the slowing in very different ways. Readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction such as Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer or On the Beach by Nevil Shute will enjoy this title, which has excellent teen-crossover appeal.

Sam

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Rambling Man

My Cross to BearMy Cross to Bear has all the usual trappings that we’ve come to expect from a rock biography. There are the standard stories of groupies, squabbling with other band members, chemical excess and failed marriages. Beyond the basic musician biography ingredients though, there’s also a fascinating life story that remains very Southern throughout.

 

Gregg Allman begins his life in Nashville, Tennessee, eventually travels all over the world and currently lives in Savannah, Georgia. Throughout his fame, fortune and travels, he never ventured far from his roots in his outlook and tone. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is “hearing” the voice of Gregg Allman and his Southern phrasings. One fine example: he loses his virginity and declares the experience to be "the best thing since black-eyed peas.”

 

My Cross to Bear opens at the Allman Brothers’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. At this point, Gregg Allman is a severe alcoholic. He sincerely tries to stay sober for the ceremony but fails miserably. This was one of the lowest points in his life. He embarrassed his family, the rest of the band and most of all, himself. This seems to be a turning point and at that moment, he decides to turn his life around.

 

Like many musician biographies, much of the story is about Allman’s struggles with various addictions throughout his life. The real story here is that of the Allman brothers themselves (Gregg and Duane). Their story is one of humble beginnings, unimaginable fame, wasted fortunes and incalculable loss, including the tragic death of both Berry Oakley and Duane Allman. Duane Allman’s spirit is really the guiding force in the book. Older brother Duane could be credited with starting the Allman Brothers Band; his guitar work was a key element in the Allman brothers’ distinct sound. One gets the feeling that Gregg never felt that he quite measured up to big brother, Duane.

 

My Cross to Bear is satisfying, entertaining read from beginning to end. Quite simply, it is a Southern-fried version of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” story. What’s not to love about that?

Zeke

 
 

One Man’s Journey, One Family’s Saga, One Country’s History

Wish You Were HereReflection can sometimes tell the whole story.  In Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here, there are few characters, even less action, but plenty about how memory and evaluation of past choices occupy our present-day lives. 

 

The story revolves around Jack, who came from a Devonshire farming family but was forced to abandon his family’s profession after fear of mad-cow disease forced them to put the herd down.  As the story begins, the majority of the family members once close to Jack, those who helped define him, have passed.  He is reliant solely on his wife Ellie, with whom he has co-owned a campground and vacation resort for several years.  This has afforded them a more luxurious lifestyle than farming, but has set them adrift from the family and community connections of their childhood. 

 

The real shift in the story comes when Jack belatedly learns of the death of his brother Tom, a soldier who has been killed in Iraq.  Tom was already long estranged from the family, but going to retrieve his body and bring him home for burial proves a catalyst for Jack to reflect back on his life and choices.  More overarching is the theme of the impact of war not just on his family but on the country of England as a whole, going back many generations. 

 

Swift, who previously won the Booker Prize for Last Orders, spins a slow tale, bereft of suspense or much action. Yet the story he tells is beautiful and poignant.  Readers will want to know how Jack reached his present state, and what the near future holds for him.  Fans of The Shipping News or Olive Kitteridge will appreciate this understated tale about connections to home and family. 

 

Melanie