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Bloggers

 

Finding Her Chinese Roots

Finding Her Chinese Roots

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

The Year of the Fortune CookieFor sixth grader Anna Wang, life is presenting her with some serious and exciting challenges. She’s learning her way around middle school, trying to make new friends and accepting her adopted baby sister Kaylee. In The Year of the Fortune Cookie by Andrea Cheng, Anna’s also been offered the chance of a lifetime. Her family’s friends, the Sylvesters, have invited Anna and her mom to travel to China. Being a Chinese-American and having a basic understanding of the language, Anna realizes that this trip is a way to connect with her Chinese relatives, see the orphanage where her sister used to live, and improve her language skills. Unfortunately, Anna’s mom cannot get time off from work to accompany her so she has to travel by herself.

 

This third installment in the Anna Wang series gives the young heroine some real-life issues to deal with in a thought-provoking way. While Anna has never even travelled out of state by herself before, the chance visit to China is one that she cannot turn down, even though it takes a lot of inner strength and courage for her to go. Cheng effectively portrays how Anna, being one of a small number of Asian-American students in her home town, is suddenly thrust into a culture where she no longer sees herself as a minority. Yet, while the Chinese people do not stare at Anna as an outsider, she comes to realize that she is not just Chinese or just American but both. Cheng also nicely integrates some simple Chinese words and symbols throughout the story so young readers can learn something about the language.

Regina

 
 

Between the Covers with the Beekman Boys

Cover art for Heirloom Vegetable CookbookThe local farmer’s market has come alive with the colors and flavors of seasonal vegetables, so now is a great time to dive into The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook and add more greens to your table.
 

Fans will remember Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell as the two NYC executives who gave up their jobs, purchased a goat farm in Sharon Springs, New York, and became successful reality TV celebrities on The Fabulous Beekman Boys and The Amazing Race. The cookbooks are certainly popular. Food & Wine magazine rated the The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook as one of the best of 2013. Brent and Josh include personal anecdotes in the introduction to many of the recipes and have added beautiful color photographs of many of the dishes and photographs of life on the Beekman farm. Recipes have a classic feel, feature easy-to-find ingredients and are simple enough for cooks with little kitchen experience. Imagine the delight when you show up at the next company picnic with a chocolate beet cake or a multi-hued tomato tart!
 

Between the Covers posed some questions to Brent and Josh about the cookbook:
 

Between the Covers: The cookbook is divided into four “seasons” of recipes. Which season inspires you the most to make creative dishes?

Brent and Josh: Our entire company is based around seasonal living, so we draw inspiration from and try to make the most of what each season offers. It's not fair to choose favorites.
 

BTC: In the introduction, you encourage the reader to use the cookbook as an heirloom that could inspire future generations of cooks. What is an heirloom recipe?

B&J: An heirloom recipe is one that is made so frequently in your family that it has its own folklore and mythology built around it. In order to become an heirloom, we think a recipe has to be delicious, easy to make and include readily available ingredients. These are the types of foods that we find comfort in.
 

BTC: Can you tell us about any family member that inspired you to work with food?

B&J: Brent takes a lot of inspiration from his grandmother and great-grandmother who managed to put delicious meals on the table even in the hard-environs of the West Virginia coal mining communities. Josh's uncle, an ex-pat living in the south of France, taught him that technique is secondary to having the best, freshest ingredients.
 

BTC: Can you tell us a bit about the test process that takes you from an idea to a finished, polished recipe?

B&J: We cook dinner every single night that we are at the farm. Most of the recipes for all of our books have their origins in these meals. We harvest what is ready to be harvested and then ask ourselves, "What can we do with this?"
 

BTC: How do you divide your kitchen duties?

B&J: Brent is the creative thinker. Josh is the master of execution.
 

BTC: Do you have any words of encouragement for kitchen novices who really want to start eating fresher at home?

B&J: Think of your trip to the market as a grand adventure. Choose one new fresh ingredient each week and learn how to make it shine in something you cook.
 

If you would like to meet Brent and Josh, they will be appearing at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 27 at 5 p.m.
 

For more information about the Beekman boys, read The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell.

Doug

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Relationship Status: Single

Relationship Status: Single

posted by:
July 14, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for On the RocksOn the Rocks by Erin Duffy opens with Abby trying on the Vera Wang wedding dress of her dreams. At that moment, her fiancé Ben changes his Facebook relationship status to single and Abby’s life is shattered in this charming novel of friendship, family and love in the crazy age of social media.

 

As Abby struggles to get over Ben, her best friend Grace decides they both need a change of scenery and rents a quaint cottage in Newport for the two to share over the summer. While the pair leaves their problems behind, they enjoy sea breezes, refreshing cocktails and the attentions of handsome men. Abby also secures her very own dating coach when she meets Bobby, an awkward, out-of-work lawyer who demands that she focus on dating as if it were a job. But dating has changed in the 12 years Abby was with Ben, and social media has put a scary spin on the social scene. From Facebook to a walk-of-shame website, Abby navigates her new role as a singleton without the privilege of privacy and the possibility of being cast as a viral victim just a click away.

 

Duffy’s fresh story is a humorous but realistic foray into contemporary dating. Bad dates, laughable pick-up lines, crazy families and clever dialogue are peppered throughout this fun and relatable story that's ultimately the tale of one woman’s unpredictable journey to happiness. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Sarah Pekkanen and Nancy Thayer should definitely pack this one on vacation!

Maureen

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To Be Young and a Liar

To Be Young and a Liar

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

Cover art for We Were Liars"My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman. I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs. I am nearly eighteen. I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools."

 

So begins and ends E. Lockhart’s new book We Were Liars. Yet, by the end, the reader will have a much clearer perspective on the narrator's words. Cadence is part of the powerful and distinguished Sinclair family of New England. Every summer, the extended families vacation on their private island, each family set up in their own beautiful house. Idyllic? There’s been an unchallenged stoicism to the Sinclair family, but modernism with its myriad of issues is breaking to the surface: divorce, debt, addiction, the welcoming of outsiders — and the family hasn’t handled it well.

 

Then there’s Cadence herself. Every summer, she has been with her two cousins – Mirren and Johnny, later joined by Gat, the nephew of one of her aunt’s new husbands. They became known as “The Liars” for the trouble they caused as a group. But something happens on the island at the end of Cadence’s 15th summer, something of which she has no recollection, except that she almost drowned. Plagued by health issues, she doesn’t return until her 17th summer. She tried to reach out to her cousins and friend during her absence but heard nothing. No one else will talk about what happened that year, or what led up to her near death. Everyone tells her she must remember herself. Slowly, she recovers memories of her life that summer and puts pieces together to reveal a much darker family history. By the end, she will be face-to-face with grief and the full horror of events.

 

Told with beautiful poetic lyricism and sparse wording conveying rich description, this book shouldn’t be overlooked by adults or book clubs. Rife with character introspection, family dysfunction and mystery layered with fractured reality, in its final pages, We Were Liars packs a powerful punch. 

Melanie

 
 

Magic Doesn't Solve Problems

Magic Doesn't Solve Problems

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

Cover art for The Islands of ChaldeaAileen was supposed to become a wise woman like her Aunt Beck, but then she messed up her initiation and spends the following morning in one of those depressions that sucks the joy right out of eating. So maybe it's just as well that she and her aunt are summoned to the castle and sent off on a quest to reopen the sealed land of Logre, which vanished behind a wall not long after Aileen was born. Things go wrong. When Aunt Beck gets herself cursed out of her own stubbornness, it's up to Aileen to take over and deal with all the problems — both large and small — that crop up.

 

When Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, we lost one of the great fantasy and children's writers of the past century. There's a sense, not just of magic and quests, but of people who actually have to live in a world where curses might mean that every meal has to be spoon-fed, and where the horse isn't a gallant steed but a donkey that gets the cart stuck in the mud sometimes. There's true love, the refutation of childhood crushes and a gentle understanding that people sometimes make the wrong choices when they're alone. It doesn't take center stage, but there's a lot that an older reader will get that a child won't.

 

What makes a Diana Wynne Jones story is the understanding that as wonderful as magic is, it doesn't solve problems. Magic is merely an extension of the personality of the people who use it. Character, not power, decides the fate of Aileen and her companions.

 

The Islands of Chaldea was completed by Diana Wynne Jones's sister, Ursula Jones, an acclaimed novelist and actress.

Matt

 
 

Non-stop Suspense

Non-stop Suspense

posted by:
July 10, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Remains of InnocenceIn Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a hoarder dies of emphysema. While unearthing mountains of ruined furniture, useless junk and disgusting garbage, her daughter, Liza, discovers a small fortune in $100 bills. But someone in Massachusetts disputes her claim and is willing to go to any lengths to get his money back; including torture, arson and murder. Terrified and on-the-run, Liza travels across the country desperately seeking safety.

 

In Bisbee, Arizona, a developmentally disabled man suffering from Alzheimer’s has gone missing, requiring an all-out manhunt. Friends, neighbors and the police form teams hoping to find the gentle giant before he is lost in the Arizona desert. What could these two cases possibly have in common?

 

Joanna Brady, now the well-seasoned sheriff of Cochise County, must juggle two challenging investigations at once, straining budget resources and pushing her deputies to their limits. Confronting long-held family secrets and lies, Sheriff Brady must do some unearthing of her own to discover the appalling truth.

 

Filled with non-stop suspense, original characters, taut action and realistic police procedure, Remains of Innocence is set in the backdrop of the hauntingly beautiful Arizona desert. J. A. Jance’s latest Sheriff Brady mystery is sure to please fans of Michael Connelly, Craig Johnson and Archer Mayor. New readers of Jance’s work as well as fans of this series will find this a very satisfying outing.

Leanne

 
 

Incredible Story of Intrigue No Accident

Cover art for The AccidentChris Pavone’s second book The Accident seems like an unlikely mash-up at first blush, but, in fact, it is a perfect blend of two worlds that rarely crossover. One world is the rapidly collapsing world of publishing and the other is the treacherous world of international espionage. The point where they connect is a globe-spanning multimedia empire, Wolf Media, whose founder committed a horrible crime. A memoir has surfaced exposing the founder's many crimes written by an anonymous yet highly accurate source. As the manuscript winds its way through the publishing world, it goes viral in the traditional sense of the word, it spreads unchecked and brings death to everyone who reads it.

 

Pavone’s sophomore outing works for a number of reasons. You quickly see that the world of espionage and publishing are natural counterpoints. People in those fields work hand-in-hand with the powerful and influential, but they lack the wealth, resources and fame of the same. They are Cinderella at the ball, allowed to see the spectacle, but living lives much separated from it. Secondly, Wolf Media and its real life counterparts have had a huge impact on publishing and wield unprecedented influence on international affairs. Pavone tackles this idea head-on, showing Wolf Media as both the possible savior and destroyer of traditional publishing, while at the same time being manipulated by — and sometimes manipulator of — intelligence agencies.

 

Pavone, a longtime veteran of the publishing industry, provides keen insight into modern publishing, an industry that seems to be living from one quarterly balance sheet to the next. Just as interesting is his depiction of a post 9/11 U.S. intelligence apparatus that is so focused on one particular region and threat that an off-the-books intelligence operation can operate without oversight and for the benefit of corporate partners.

 

The Accident is much like the David Mamet film The Spanish Prisoner. Each time you think you know where the story is going, you will be surprised, right up to the final shocking revelations. Pavone has crafted a unique tale of intrigue, espionage and murder in our modern world where spies and secrets are far less the provenance of nations than powerful multinational corporations.

Brian

 
 

Your Underwater Adventure Awaits

Covert art for Deep Sea DisasterCover art for Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!Harry Hammer, a hammerhead shark, has created his list of the top five coolest sharks in existence. Of course, number one is the great white with their rows of pointy sharp teeth. Number two is the fast swimming blue shark. The stripy and scary tiger shark clocks in at number three, and number four is the ginormous whale shark. Finally, to round out the top five cool sharks, there's the bull shark, who can swim in rivers as well as the sea. So what could be cool about a goofy-looking hammerhead shark? That’s the question on Harry’s mind in the first book of Davy Ocean’s new series, Shark School: Deep Sea Disaster.
 

When Harry’s class goes on a field trip to a shipwreck for a group project, their sea turtle teacher has given them strict instruction to not go into the wreck because it’s too dangerous. However, Harry’s group ignores their teacher’s instructions and enters the rusty old ship anyway. Things turn bad and the students become trapped in the collapsing wreck. Can Harry use his special hammerhead sensory powers to find a way out and prove that he’s just as cool as all the other sharks in the sea?
 

In the second installment, Shark School: Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!, we follow Harry and his friends as they try to find something entertaining to do during school vacation. When the “leggy air-breathers” arrive to make a new movie, Harry hatches a plan to become famous, just like his hero Gregor the Gnasher. But Harry’s not the only shark with aspirations for stardom. Will Harry be able to nab a starring role in the film? Or will Rick Reef steal the show?
 

These fast-paced, action-filled, underwater adventures are sure to please first chapter readers. From dealing with bullies to embracing your own uniqueness, kids will be able to identify with the situations faced by Harry and his friends. As an added bonus you can enjoy some “Shark Bites,” fascinating facts about the animals that live in the ocean.

Christina

 
 

The Treasure Within

The Treasure Within

posted by:
July 9, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for All the Light We Cannot SeeSome books are beautifully written while others tell a fascinating story. And then there is Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, which combines exquisite prose with an engrossing and layered tale of history, science and myth set in Europe during the era of World War II.

 

In August of 1944, the French coastal city of St. Malo was the location of a battle between the occupying Nazi troops and the Allied forces determined to drive out the Germans. In the city, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a 16-year-old blind girl, is home alone, hiding under her bed when the shelling begins. Across town, German army private Walter Pfennig is stationed with his radio team in the basement of the Hotel of Bees.

 

Doerr moves his story back and forth within a 10 year time frame. Marie-Laure was living in Paris with her father, the locksmith for the vast complex of the National Museum of Natural History. The pair fled Paris as the Occupation began, possibly carrying with them a priceless diamond steeped in legend from the museum’s collection. As a boy, Werner lived in an orphanage where he repaired a radio discarded as trash. He and his little sister would tune in to French radio broadcasts about science. Gifted with an analytical mind, Werner is drafted by the Nazis, using his skills to hunt down amateur broadcasters for the Resistance. Doerr carefully unfolds each character’s narrative as they gradually converge in St. Malo.

 

The center of this story might be a peerless gem, as cursed as the Hope diamond, both precious and horrifying. It might be the realization that both good and evil — or caring and callousness — can live within one heart. All the Light We Cannot See is a finely crafted work and deserves its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Readers of World War II literary fiction might also enjoy Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, a 2012 Man Booker finalist.   

Lori

 
 

A Tragic, Beautiful Reckoning

A Tragic, Beautiful Reckoning

posted by:
July 8, 2014 - 9:38am

Cover art for The Girls from Carona del MarWe all have friends from yesteryear with whom we pine for the perfect, golden memories of whatever chapter of our lives we consider to be “the good old days.” Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, as their journeys take them from their California hometown to the far corners of the world and back again, testing their bond along the way.

 

Mia is convinced that her friend Lorrie Ann is her counterbalance in the universe. Beautiful, soft-spoken and otherwise perfect in every manner, she can do no wrong in her kindred spirit’s eyes. Lorrie Ann’s only flaw seems to be her terrible luck; despite being an elementally good person, she suffers three distinct, life-altering tragedies that leave her reeling and unsure of her purpose in life. Mia feels powerless, remorseful and guilty, as if her best friend was being punished for her own shortcomings.

 

As the two grow older, their lives become disparate; Mia marries and moves to Turkey to develop her career while Lorrie Ann is swallowed up by the world. After years of sporadic contact, Mia is shocked when her best friend turns up in Istanbul, battered and in need of help. What transpires after the two are reunited challenges the temper of their time-forged companionship.

 

The Girls from Corona del Mar is a tragic, beautiful reckoning of the worst catastrophes life can muster, and illustrates just how powerful and enduring friendship can be, despite the fragility of youth. Anyone who has lost a best friend to time or distance will sympathize as Mia and Lorrie Ann’s story progresses. Rufi Thorpe has written a wonderful debut that will be enjoyed by fans of literary fiction or women’s literature.

Tom

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