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Bloggers

 

Downton Abbey Addicts Anonymous

To Marry an English LordThw World of Downton AbbeyViewers have flocked to the smash hit BBC television series Downton Abbey  for the past two years, but the wait between seasons is agonizingly long for devoted fans.  The show’s popularity has created a publishing craze to produce more and more titles to help tide Downton Abbey fans over until new episodes arrive.

 

After the New York Times published a list of books for Downton Abbey fans they received a letter from Julian Fellowes, the series creator who is also known for writing the Oscar Award-winning screenplay for Gosford Park.  Fellowes wrote to highlight a title that the New York Times had missed—To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace.  This book follows the lives of several American heiresses who went to England in the late 19th century in hopes of marrying into the aristocracy.  Fellowes says that these stories really made him curious about the women’s lives after their marriages, and that idea inspired him to create the character of Lady Cora Grantham.  The gossip in To Marry an English Lord may be over a century old, but it remains riveting.  Readers will love the illustrations, sidebars, quotes, and photographs that make it an engrossing guide to the time period. 

 

Still looking for more Downton Abbey?  Try The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, who is the niece of Julian Fellowes.  This official companion offers a behind-the-scenes look at Emmy Award-winning the show, the characters, the cast and crew, and Highclere Castle, which is the location for the show.  This pictorial guide is truly a must-read for Downton Abbey fans.

 

Look for the third season of Downton Abbey to air in the US in January 2013.  The Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, will have some real competition when Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Lady Cora’s American mother, Martha Levinson.

Beth

 
 

A Year in the City of Lights

Paris in LoveEloisa James is the pen name for Fordham literature professor Mary Bly. The daughter of the award-winning poet Robert Bly and short story author Carol Bly, James began writing romances because her husband (an Italian knight!) wanted to wait until they were more financially secure to have a second child. Today, she has approximately 3.5 million books in print in 13 different languages and is a frequent inhabitant of the New York Times bestseller list. 

 

James decided to move her family to Paris in 2009, following her mother’s death and her own struggle with breast cancer.  James chronicles this exhilarating year abroad in Paris in Love: A Memoir.The cast includes the aforementioned husband, Alessandro, also a professor and the only one who could speak French. Her children, Anna, 11 and Luca, 15, round out this appealing family. Both were initially less than impressed with French schools and society. For more on this delightful family, take a look at the book's own website.

 

James’ regular enthusiasts will savor this funny slice of life, and new readers will quickly be drawn in to this excellent memoir which is also a look at marriage and family and even includes recipes! Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert noted that, “Reading this memoir was like wandering through a Parisian patisserie in a dream. I absolutely loved it.”

 

Readers who appreciate the humorous tone to James’ writing, should definitely try some of her novels which are infused with wit and modern sensibilities. Start with her Happily Ever After series (A Kiss at Midnight, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and The Duke is Mine), which are retellings of famous fairy tales and can be read in any order. After all, who doesn’t like to read a "Once upon a time" story every now and then? 

Maureen

 
 

A Radical Life

Panther BabyThe new memoir Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention recounts Jamal (Eddie) Joseph’s journey from straight-A student to member of the revolutionary, criminal underground, and finally from convict to the chair of Columbia University's School of the Arts film division.

 

Eddie Joseph was orphaned at a very early age. He was raised in the black ghetto in the Bronx in the 1960s by an elderly black working-class couple, Noonie and Pa Baltimore. Coming of age in a highly charged era, Joseph quickly becomes enamored with the image of the Black Panthers. On seeing Black Panthers for the first time on television he says: “Look at those dudes, I thought. They’re crazy. They got black leather coats and berets, carrying guns, scaring white people, reading communist books. They’re crazy. I immediately wanted to join.”

Upon finally finding the Panthers, he realizes they are different than he had first imagined. They arm him with books, not guns. Very early on, Eddie is rechristened as Unbuntu Usa Jamal, or “he who comes together in the spirit of blackness.” He later learns the meaning is entirely fabricated but decides to keep the name, anyway. Jamal Joseph soon finds his place in the party. The Black Panthers help him figure out his place in the world and give meaning to his life. A gifted public speaker, he quickly becomes one of the youngest spokespeople for the party. He works closely with Afeni Shakur (late rapper Tupac Shakur’s mother) and finds himself giving speeches at college campuses, community centers and cocktail-party fundraisers, rubbing elbows with the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Tom Wolfe.

 

The 1960s become more radical and Joseph becomes more involved in the underground (sometimes criminal) activities of the party. He spends two major stints in jail, once for conspiracy charges and later for attempting to aid underground fugitives, he is sent to Leavenworth Prison for twelve years. It is in the infamous Leavenworth Prison that he rediscovers his love for theater. He eventually earns three degrees while in prison and is now the chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division.

Panther Baby works on multiple levels. It’s a fascinating memoir and coming of age story. Jamal Joseph reflects on his experience as an orphan and as a young black man growing up in the Bronx, trying to figure out who he is and how he fits in to the world around him. The book also succeeds on a broader level. Through Joseph’s individual story, we’re given a deeper understanding of this history of the Black Panthers and an overall picture of what revolutionary politics looked and felt like in the 1960s. Panther Baby is a clear-eyed inspirational story that will appeal to both teen and adult readers.
 

 

Zeke

 
 

Hats off to Magritte

Hats off to Magritte

posted by:
May 9, 2012 - 1:11am

Magritte's Marvelous HatYou don’t have to be familiar with artist René Magritte’s work to appreciate Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D.B. Johnson. His homage to Magritte is a wonderful introduction to surreal artwork for the preschool to elementary school set.  In this book, with all canine characters, Magritte is a painter who buys a magical hat that floats just above his head.  The hat stays with Magritte as he heads home and is inspired to paint his best work ever.  He has fun with his hat, playing hide and seek and walking through the park. When he starts painting day and night, the hat feels neglected and runs away. 

 

The story is charming, but it is the illustrations that will wow the reader.  Inspired by Magritte’s surreal paintings, the book is filled with references to his greatest works.  Readers will be tickled to look into the fish market and see an ocean with fish clouds above.  Did you notice that it is raining under the umbrella? Does the reflection in the mirror seem “off”?  Johnson includes four transparent overlay pages that further delight. With its bright, bold illustrations, Magritte’s Marvelous Hat is a visual treat for any age. Take your time, and let your young reader really absorb the artwork.  They’ll have fun picking out what’s wrong(?) and maybe they’ll ask for a book about Magritte's art!

Diane

 
 

Skullbania is Not a City in New Jersey

Fangbone! Third-grade BarbarianFangbone! Third-grade Barbarian: The Egg of MiseryEastwood Elementary has a new third grade student, a young warrior who hails from the faraway land of Skullbania. Clad in raggedy homemade boots, a cape, horned helmet and what the other students interpret as “fur underwear,” Fangbone tumbles though a portal into a garbage dump on the hillside overlooking the school. He’s been entrusted with protecting the big toe of Drool, which will keep evil from his land. But strange new challenges (like the concept of toilets) lie ahead for Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian, the engaging hero of Michael Rex’s silly new graphic novel series for elementary school readers.

 

The first book introduces Fangbone as he attempts to assimilate into class 3G. Soon he’s made a new best friend, Bill, while gathering the whole class as his army of minions. His clueless principal thinks it’s all an exercise in appreciating other cultures. Soon Fangbone leads the losing 3G Extreme Attack Unicorns through a victory in the beanball games, and his classmates come through for him when evil strikes from his homeland. Rendered in simple comic book style line drawings, Fangbone! holds special appeal for young boys who appreciate an abundance of goofy, mildly gross humor and plenty of battle action.  

 

The adventures continue in Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian: The Egg of Misery, as a strange oversized egg appears, sent from Skullbania by the warrior’s clan. The class works hard to hatch this bizarre, spotted egg, believing it contains a baby dragon. Meanwhile, they must all work together to present their assigned animal, the dodo, for the third grade’s Extinction Pageant. Craziness and danger ensue, as Fangbone wields his sword against Skullbanian evil and the trials of a group project.

 

Known for his popular parodies of classic children’s picture books such as Goodnight Goon and Furious George Goes Bananas, Michael Rex has found a new niche in graphic novels. Young fans of Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta and Captain Underpants series will quickly devour these adventures. Look for a third Fangbone! title, The Birthday Party of Dread, to debut in August.

Paula G.

 
 

The Pigeon is BACK!

The Pigeon is BACK!

posted by:
May 9, 2012 - 1:11am

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?Mo Willems delivers his first Pigeon book in four years with The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, and it’s worth the wait.  When the Duckling asks politely for a cookie and gets one, the Pigeon is SHOCKED! True to form, Pigeon falls into a major tantrum and lists all of the things that have been unfairly denied him: driving the bus, hot-dog parties, a walrus, one more story, and even his own iceberg. The Pigeon's rant is quickly terminated when the Duckling generously offers him the treat.  (In a funny twist, by book’s end, the Duckling’s motives will be revealed to be less than pure.)  As Pigeon moves from apoplectic to apologetic, he is almost speechless.   

 

Simple text within balloons and animated illustrations highlight the story and mark Willems’ popular brand of storytelling. This is a fun read-aloud and an excellent way to introduce topics of manners and politeness. While the Pigeon may not get the point, young readers and listeners will. This is a fabulous and funny addition to the Pigeon stories. The legion of Pigeon fans will be delighted and new fans will be looking to catch up on all of the Pigeon’s previous antics. Be sure to have plenty of cookies on hand for this treat!

 

Willems maintains an active online presence, and www.pigeonpresents.com is a treasure trove for kids and grown-ups with games, teacher’s guides, and event planning ideas.  Also available for ipad and iphone is Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App. It allows children and adults to participate even more in the Pigeon’s stories, and includes an interactive Mad Lib and a Draw with Mo feature. And the Pigeon tweets!  Become a follower on Twitter @The_Pigeon.

Maureen

 
 

The Wild Rumpus Falls Silent

Where the Wild Things AreLittle Bear AudioBumble-ArdyMaurice Sendak, beloved children’s book author and illustrator, died Tuesday as the result of complications from a recent stroke. A prolific creator of picture books that have become part of the American psyche, Sendak is perhaps most widely remembered for his groundbreaking classic, Where the Wild Things Are, which delved into the imagination of young Max, escaping from punishment in his room to a land populated by monsters who welcome chaos. Sendak was awarded the Caldecott medal in 1964 for this groundbreaking book.

 

His career began as an illustrator of others' work, most notably the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik. Sendak’s carefully detailed, expressive animal characters are an integral part of the success of those titles, beginning with the original Little Bear in 1957. Still popular with children today, Sendak’s illustrations were brought to life as an animated series.

 

Sendak’s most recent picture book, Bumble-Ardy, was the first both written and illustrated by him since 1981. Bumble-Ardy began life as an original "Sesame Street" animated segment, also by Sendak, centering around a nine year-old pig who had never been given a birthday party. According to the storyteller of the book, “Bumble-Ardy had no party when he turned one (his immediate family frowned on fun).” He decides to make up for this grievous neglect by throwing his own raucous event (which quickly gets out of hand) at his aunt’s house while she’s away. Like most of Sendak’s work, this acknowledges a dark side to childhood.

 

Visit a Baltimore County Public Library branch to explore more of this beloved author’s body of work.

Paula G.

 
 

The Next Jason Bourne

The Next Jason Bourne

posted by:
May 8, 2012 - 12:30pm

The ExpatsMove over Jason Bourne--there’s a hot new spy in town!  Praised by Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham among others, The Expats by Chris Pavone is this spring’s hottest debut spy thriller.  As this fast-paced story unravels secret after secret, readers are taken along on an exhilarating ride through Europe.

 

Kate Moore has always kept her CIA career from her husband Dexter.  When Dexter is offered a lucrative new job, Kate quits the CIA and the family moves to Luxembourg.  As Kate settles into her new life as an expat housewife, Dexter begins to change.  He becomes withdrawn and evasive.  When they meet a new couple, Julia and Bill Maclean, Kate begins to think that everything isn’t as it seems.  Is her old life catching up with her?  She begins to look behind the façade of her new life and finds that things are not what they seem to be, especially at home. 

 

Pavone wrote The Expats after his family moved to Luxembourg for his wife’s work.  He gave up his job as a book editor and ghostwriter and spent his time exploring, caring for their two sons, and writing a blog (http://www.chrispavone.blogspot.com/) about his life as a househusband in Luxembourg. That blog eventually evolved into a novel, but he thought it was too boring.  His solution: add a spy or two! The movie rights to The Expats sold soon after Pavone got his book deal, so a film version may be in the works.  Is Kate Moore the next Jason Bourne?  Try this thriller and judge for yourself.

Beth

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Look, Up in the Sky…

Look, Up in the Sky…

posted by:
May 8, 2012 - 1:11am

The Obsidian BladeTucker Feye is not the type of boy to see things that aren’t there.  His mother is not the type of person to see ghosts or act crazy.  His father is definitely not the type of person to lie.  Yet all of these things are happening and Tucker has no idea why.  Perhaps it has something to do with the shimmering, round, glassy thing that keeps appearing in the sky…right near Tucker Feye.

 

In The Obsidian Blade, it seems that Pete Hautman is departing from his usual tale of precocious teens challenging authority and finding their own solutions to the problems of life.  On the surface, this is a straight science fiction/dystopian story, complete with time-travel and futuristic technology.  Tucker is trying to solve the mystery of the shimmering disks, the sudden disappearance of his parents, and a girl and her cat who seem to have appeared from the future.   Once the reader gets past these things, The Obsidian Blade is a story about people: Tucker, his parents, his long-lost uncle, and a girl named Lahlia.  It is a story about religion and belief.  It is a story about truth and lies.  Mostly, it is a story about the decisions we make and the effect those decisions have on both the people and the world around us.

 

Pete Hautman is the author of the National Book Award winner Godless as well as many other books for teens.  The Obsidian Blade is the first book in the Klaatu Diskos trilogy.

Sam

 
 

A Grown-up Ghost Story

A Grown-up Ghost Story

posted by:
May 7, 2012 - 1:00am

The Haunting of Maddy ClareSometimes, nothing beats a good spooky story; the kind of tale that might make you turn the light on in a dark hallway before you go upstairs, or maybe double check that your doors are locked before you head off to bed. Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a ghost story with a romantic twist. Struggling to make ends meet, quiet Sarah Piper accepts an unusual assignment through her temp agency in post WWI London. Her job? Assist war-scarred ghost hunters Alistair Gellis and sidekick Matthew Ryder who are investigating the spirit of a servant girl who committed suicide in a countryside barn.  It just so happens that this particular spirit despises men, necessitating Sarah’s involvement in both communicating with Maddy Clare and solving the mystery of her death.

 

St. James’ writing style is lovely in this, her debut novel, and her choice of words and phrasing easily evoke the early twentieth century as narrated by Sarah.  The author is as skilled in describing rural England or some stylish period women’s wear as she is relaying the frightening atmosphere in the haunted barn or the suspicion of the chilly villagers. Unlike last summer’s supernatural-themed hit, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, this story is often creepy and sinister and has more in common with 2009’s Booker shortlisted The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  A page-turner to the end, pick up The Haunting of Maddy Clare knowing this one will be difficult to put down.

Lori