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Lord of the Trees

Lord of the Trees

posted by:
September 19, 2014 - 8:00am

A Sudden LightNature preservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir is considered the father of the United States National Parks system, thanks to his influence over President Teddy Roosevelt. Muir’s philosophy permeates author Garth Stein’s newest novel, A Sudden Light, which pits the Riddell family members against each other alongside the backdrop of a fortune built of trees.

 

The year is 1990. Thirteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are bankrupt, their marriage crumbling under the strain. In a last ditch effort to lure back his wife, Trevor’s dad Jones hauls Trevor to the Pacific Northwest where demoralized Jones hopes to reunite with his estranged sister and their father while  tapping into his family’s enormous wealth. Trevor finds himself on the Riddell’s vast estate populated with old growth woods, living in a decaying timber mansion and becoming acquainted with his disconcertingly sexy aunt and a grandfather succumbing to dementia. Grandpa Samuel hears his dead wife dancing in the ballroom at night; Jones and Aunt Serena’s conversations have a disturbing subtext which leaves Trevor unsettled. As Trevor begins to explore the manor, he uncovers (with a little help from a long dead uncle) evidence of a tragic family history which reaches back to his great-great grandfather, Elijah, a lumber baron, businessman and eventual philanthropist.

 

Stein is the author of the bestselling book The Art of Racing in the Rain, in which the story is told from the perspective of a dog. In A Sudden Light, trees and the notion of preserving undeveloped land are mute characters whose looming presence shape the Riddells’ fate over generations. Stein has surely written another book club favorite with this modern gothic coming-of-age story.

Lori

 
 

It’s Always the Husband

It’s Always the Husband

posted by:
September 18, 2014 - 8:00am

Gone GirlWhen Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary, suspicion immediately falls on her husband Nick. Everyone knows that in these cases it’s always the husband, right? With unpredictable characters and a plot worthy of Hitchcock, Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestselling novel Gone Girl has captivated audiences since it was published in 2012, and it’s gaining a whole new audience as a film based on the novel comes to theaters on October 3. The movie, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson and Tyler Perry, is already one of the most buzzed about of the year, and its haunting trailer makes it clear why.

 

Reports about changes in the plot and the ending of the movie have worried fans. While Flynn told Entertainment Weekly, “There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its eight million LEGO pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie” earlier this year, fans of the book shouldn’t be worried. She later assured readers that “the mood, tone and spirit of the book are very much intact. I've been very involved in the film and loved it.” We’ll all just have to wait and see.

 

By this point, many readers have already raced through Gone Girl. Here are a few dark and twisty thrillers for readers who enjoyed it. Mary Kubica’s debut thriller The Good Girl, about the abduction of the 24-year-old daughter of a prominent Chicago family, is a page-turner with plenty of plot twists and turns. A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife is a gripping psychological thriller about the dissolution of a couple’s relationship. Sabine Durrant’s Under Your Skin is a dark thrill-ride featuring a potentially unreliable narrator, a troubled marriage and a murder case playing out in the media. For more suggestions, check out this list of 10 Gone Girl readalikes to tide you over until the movie’s release.

Beth

 
 

There We Weren't All in One Place

The Long MarsThirty years ago, mankind gained access to virtually unlimited space. By means of a small box containing a potato, people could step "West" or "East" into an unknown number of alternate Earths where humankind had never evolved. Given open spaces, mankind did what mankind has always done, and colonized millions of other worlds. They weren't nearly enough.

Willis Linsay disappeared 30 years ago after releasing humanity into the Long Earth. No one knows where he's been, or what he's been looking for all that time, but now he's back and dragging his daughter along to Mars. For Mars, it turns out, also has an infinite number of alternate worlds, and one of them might just hold a whole new gateway to the universe. Back on the Long Earth, Captain Maggie Kauffman has been sent on an entirely new exploration, all the way out to Earth 200 million. Joshua Valiente, the Long Earth's oldest explorer, has set out to find a new kind of people who may be humanity's future.

 

The third book in the Terry Pratchett Long Earth series, The Long Mars' weakness is its plot, which feels like the set up for a bigger story. While there may be a functional double climax, most of the story is exploratory ramble, but that exploratory ramble remains absolutely stunning. Every world in the Long Earth and a few in the Long Mars developed in radically different ways. The alternate world premise may be fantasy, but every world of the Long Earth has real science behind it. Here, an entirely different evolutionary pathway, there a different sociological slant on civilization. It's possible to learn more about climate science in in a single passage of The Long Mars than an entire high school science course, and be entertained besides by Terry Pratchett's arch commentary.

Matt

 
 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

ConversionKatherine Howe’s first teen novel Conversion follows in the footsteps of her adult novels, as it deals with the paranormal, with witches and witchcraft. Conversion switches perspectives—from modern day St. Joan’s Academy, an elite, all-girls private school, to 17th century Salem Village—as Howe tells the story of two girls, Colleen Rowley and Ann Putnam Jr.,  who are linked despite growing up centuries apart.

 

The majority of the story is Colleen’s, a high school senior whose greatest desire in life is to be class valedictorian and attend Harvard. When Colleen returns to St. Joan’s for the last semester of her senior year, things take a drastic turn, as her classmates begin falling sick. Initially, the media blames a vaccine for the odd tics that the girls develop, but as more and more St. Joan’s girls succumb to the mystery illness, Colleen and others begin to question the diagnosis. Meanwhile, Howe weaves in chapters of Ann Putnam Jr.’s confession of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, drawing parallels between the two stories.

 

Longtime fans of Katherine Howe will enjoy this new teen title, while those new to Howe’s books, looking for a book with a paranormal twist, will enjoy Conversion. Loosely based on a real story of teenage girls falling sick at a New York high school and Ann Putnam Jr.’s real accounts of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, Conversion is based in reality. Howe adds her signature paranormal elements that make the reader question everything.

Laura

 
 

Between the Covers with Lauren Oliver

RoomsLauren Oliver, bestselling author of popular teen novels Before I Fall and the Delirium Trilogy, makes her leap into the adult literary scene with Rooms, a haunting story narrated by two ghosts. After Richard Walker dies, his embittered ex-wife and two children arrive at his mansion to claim their inheritance. But the house also comes with two ghosts, Alice and Sandra, who are deeply rooted to the house. As their connection unfolds, so too does the Walker family’s woes in this gripping novel about secrets, lies and family. Oliver recently spoke with Between the Covers on Rooms, shopping and more.

 

Between the Covers: Rooms is an imaginative and gripping tale of the living and the dead, and you tell the stories from both worlds seamlessly and realistically. What was your inspiration? Do you believe in ghosts?

Lauren Oliver: Thank you! I don’t think I believe in ghosts in the traditional sense. Then again, I’m not actively a disbeliever, and several of my novels for younger readers deal with visions of the afterlife. So I’d certainly say it’s an area of deep curiosity. Mortality in general, and the meaning we make of life, really interests me, maybe because I wasn’t raised in any particular religion and had to kind of untangle that stuff for myself.

 

BTC: Alice and Sandra, the resident ghosts, are the narrators of this spellbinding story. What drove this creative decision? Was it challenging to create ghostly characters with such distinct voices?

LO: It was immensely challenging, not because I knew they had to have distinct voices and characteristics but because of their physical limitations. They’re really spectators. They’re almost incapable of interacting with or influencing the central action. So in that way there’s something theatrical about the novel–it’s as if Alice and Sandra are watching a play. Initially, I was inspired by the idea not of ghosts per se but of a house that absorbs and can reflect back memories–I wanted to render a literal depiction of a “memory palace,” which is a pneumonic device for storing information.

 

BTC: The remaining Walkers – Caroline, Minna and Trenton – are the epitome of dysfunctional. Why put these three troubled characters in the same house as the ghosts? What was it about Trenton that made him the only human who senses the ghosts?Credit: Mike Holliday Photography

LO: Well, truly highly functional people with no issues to explore probably don’t belong as protagonists in a novel, since novels are really about character development and character collisions and crises. To be honest, although the Walkers are certainly a troubled family, they don’t seem hugely more troubled than other families I know. So maybe I just know a lot of dysfunctional families! And in Trenton’s case, I think that his interaction with and attraction to death makes him able to perceive the ghosts where the other family members can’t.

 

BTC: The structure of this novel is so unique in that each section takes place in a different room of the house. What was the intent behind this? How difficult was this to craft and execute?

LO: The book was really inspired by the concept of memory palaces. I wanted to explore the idea that we are not just shaped by the things we own but that in some ways the shaping is reciprocal; our homes become mirrors of our emotional states just as we buy and keep objects that we hope will transform us, on some level, emotionally. The structure was very difficult from a practical standpoint because all of the drama of a particular section had to be extremely contained, which of course limits what you can depict in terms of action. But it was a welcomed challenge.

 

BTC: Do you look forward to the possibility of movie/TV adaptations of your work or dread the loss of control of your work? Imagine you’re in charge of the world – or at least Hollywood. Who would you cast in the movie version of Rooms?

LO: I think it’s a little bit of both. I would welcome and embrace the possibility to do a good film or TV adaptation with the right people on board. Rooms would definitely be a challenge for Hollywood, because of its narrative structure. But if it ever does go, I hope Meryl Streep plays Alice!

 

BTC: You’ve had such great success as a teen and middle grade author. What prompted you to tackle writing for an adult audience? Did your writing process change with the different readership?

LO: For me, it’s all about character and story. Certain stories demand to be told in a certain way, for a certain audience. Rooms is in some ways a deeply domestic drama–it’s contained, it’s set in one place, and it’s about families and marriages and parents and children and the way all of these can fail us. So it was patently adult, from the time I began to write it. That said, I didn’t deliberately set down to write an adult book. My ultimate goal as a writer, however, would be to build a flexible enough career that I can work in all three genres, for all three audiences.

 

BTC: I totally support your disapproval of bananas and practical shoes. What was the last great pair of shoes you purchased?

LO: Oh my goodness. You know what? I just realized it’s been months since I bought any great shoes. I really need to go shopping!  In late spring I bought a pair of Yves Saint Laurent studded ballet flats, which are actually quite practical despite my averred preference for high heels. I need to go buy a pair of Giuseppe Zanottis, stat!

 

BTC: What can readers expect next?

LO: In the spring of 2015, I have a new young adult release called Vanishing Girls, and in the fall I launch the first in a new middle grade series. And right now I’m working on a new adult book. So…lots to come!

Maureen

 
 

Seven Days with the Foxman Family

Seven Days with the Foxman Family

posted by:
September 16, 2014 - 8:00am

This Is Where I Leave YouWhen Mort Foxman died, he had one request: He wanted his family to sit shiva. So the Foxman family gathers to mourn Mort, bringing all four siblings to their childhood home for seven days. During that time, old grudges reemerge, new dramas arise and secrets come to light in Jonathan Tropper’s smart and darkly comic novel This Is Where I Leave You.

 

In addition to the loss of his father, Judd’s life is falling apart after he walked into his bedroom to find his wife having sex with his boss. His older brother Paul, who still blames Judd for the accident that ended his promising baseball career, is struggling with fertility problems with his wife Alice who is desperate to have a baby. Their sister Wendy has a distant, strained relationship with her workaholic husband Barry and still has feelings for her childhood sweetheart Horry. Youngest brother Phillip, who is known as the family screw-up, surprises everyone when he shows and introduces them to his much older life coach/fiancée. The novel is told from Judd’s perspective, and his laugh-out-loud funny, honest observations are a perfect counterpoint to the serious and sometimes heartbreaking issues that the characters in this dysfunctional family face.

 

This Is Where I Leave You will be in theaters on September 19. The movie’s stellar ensemble cast includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Connie Britton, Dax Shepard, Kathryn Hahn and Rose Byrne. The screenplay was adapted by Tropper, so fans can rest assured that the movie will reflect the spirit (and some of the great one-liners!) of the novel.

Beth

 
 

Seeds of the Big Apple

Seeds of the Big Apple

posted by:
September 15, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Marine ParkSpending childhood nested in the same neighborhood can have a profound effect on how one grows up and views the rest of the world. When stories of the past share a consistent backdrop, memories become more cohesive and captivating, as they have in Mark Chiusano's debut collection, Marine Park. Nearly all of his stories take place in the neighborhood surrounding the run-down, isolated Marine Park in New York City.
 

Half of Chiusano's tales follow two brothers: Jamison, who narrates the duo's adventures, and his younger brother Lorris. Jamison seems like the fictional embodiment of Chiusano in his youth; he dredges up old emotions with such elegance that it feels autobiographical. Throughout their endeavors, Lorris overcomes rooted introversion to develop a social life more vigorous than his older brother’s. All Jamison feels he’s capable of doing is watching with brotherly pride and envy.
 

Chiusano's other stories volley between humorous and serious motifs. The amusing "Vincent and Aurora" is the recounting of a retired mobster who agrees to help with one last job to combat the stagnation of aging. "Shatter the Trees and Blow Them Away" laments the woes of unrequited love between two scientists working in a secret military base during World War II. "For You" is the wondrous second-person account of a man's visit to an unfamiliar bar and his conversations with strangers about wait-staff gratuity and lifelong dreams.
 

Short story and fiction enthusiasts of all varieties will find something to enjoy in Marine Park. Lorris and Jamison are both highly relatable, and Chiusano's more imaginative offerings are entertaining and just as finely crafted.

Tom

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Five Million Jobs

Five Million Jobs

posted by:
September 12, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Factory Man“Between 2001 and 2012, 63,300 American factories closed their doors and five million American factory jobs went away.” Author Beth Macy quotes these figures in her best-selling new book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town. Macy writes about the impact of free trade and globalization as it affects rural Henry County, Virginia, and its century old furniture manufacturing industry. Think this sounds a bit dry? Meet the driven factory man of the title: John Bassett III.
 

J.D. Bassett built his first furniture factory in his front yard around 1902. Twenty years later, his Bassett family furniture dynasty, with multiple factories employing hundreds of workers, was thriving thanks in part to the native “assets:” cheap southern labor and Piedmont forests ripe for lumber harvest. With Bassetts building churches, banks and schools, Bassett, Virginia, became the quintessential company town and the Bassett family its royalty, marrying its sons and daughters to scions of other local manufacturers. John Bassett III, grandson of J.D., seemed destined to inherit the Bassett Furniture throne until family politics and imported Chinese-made bedroom suites intervened.
 

Elbowed aside in favor of a brother-in-law, John Bassett III was determined to succeed on his own merit, and eventually settled at Vaughn-Bassett Furniture in nearby Galax. In direct competition with his own family, he found the larger threat to his business to be the growing stream of wooden furniture imported from Asia, priced well below what American companies could charge for their domestic product. With Virginia factories shutting down and double digit unemployment figures skyrocketing, Bassett struck back. Taking on foreign manufacturing, United States economic policy and the Furniture Retailers of America trade group, Bassett fought to enforce fair trade regulations while reinventing his furniture company over and over to remain viable. Factory Man is not just John Bassett III’s story but an eye-opening account of small towns dependent on blue collar industry in a changing global economy.

 

To join in an ongoing discussion about Factory Man, which includes many local residents' comments about the book and the Bassett, Virginia, area, visit https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/FactoryManFans/.

Lori

 
 

Anger Management

Anger Management

posted by:
September 11, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for BarracudaDaniel Kelly needs to be the fastest, the strongest and the best. The other members of his swim team call him Barracuda, also the title of Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel. Daniel’s goal is to swim freestyle in the Olympic Games. He is half-Greek and half-Australian and comes from modest roots, but his mother insists he attend an exclusive school where he can be coached by a gifted trainer. Daniel quickly realizes he does not fit in at his new posh school. The boys that come from money are quick to tease. He shields himself from the insults and uses the anger to push through the water even faster. His ever-present drive to succeed deafens him to the instructions of his coach, and Daniel soon finds that his dream of Olympic gold leads to nothing. Consumed by hatred for himself and his modest beginnings, Daniel lashes out, and this incident will have repercussions that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
 

Like Daniel, Christos Tsiolkas grew up in Australia, the son of Greek immigrant parents. His previous novels have won awards in the South Pacific region, including his previous novel The Slap that won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He shows skill again with Barracuda, a detailed literary masterpiece that only an accomplished writer can deliver. Daniel Kelly is a deeply flawed protagonist, struggling with life and trying to find his place in the world. It is a novel of incredible loss, but also of hope and ultimately redemption. Kelly’s story will resonate with the reader long after reading the final pages. This beautifully written novel should be savored by many a reader and would make a perfect title to discuss with a book group.

Doug

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Myth or Monster

Myth or Monster

posted by:
September 11, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Yeti FilesThe legends of Bigfoot and his cryptid relatives (Yeti, Chupacabra, etc.) have been around for centuries, but author/illustrator Kevin Sherry has put a new spin on this old standard. In The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet, Sherry tells the story from a Yeti’s point of view. Told in semi-graphic novel style with lots of illustrations, the reader is introduced to Blizz Richards, the Yeti narrator, and many of his friends and relatives. After receiving an invitation to a Bigfeet family reunion, Blizz relates how such reunions used to be held annually until his cousin Brian broke the code of the cryptid community and vanished forever.
 

Filled with silly humor, the story follows the plight of Blizz and his helpers — a goblin, an elf and an Arctic fox — as they try to find Brian and thwart the attempts of an evil cryptozoologist who wants to expose the cryptids to the world! While elementary aged children will undoubtedly enjoy the illustrations and offbeat story, Sherry has put enough subtle details in his drawings to entertain older readers too. The vocabulary can be a bit daunting, but Sherry does explain some of the more difficult terms (for example, cryptid is “a hidden animal whose existence has never been proven”). The first book in a new series, the story ends with a teaser for the next installment which may involve the Loch Ness Monster!

 

Kevin Sherry is a local Baltimore author who also founded Squidfire.com, an online t-shirt business.

Regina