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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Cynthia Webber

One glance inside Cynthia Webber's library tote and you will spot an assortment of reading materials, from obscure literary fiction and quirky memoirs to cozy mysteries that she consumes like comfort food. A former researcher, writer and book reviewer, Cynthia's ideal evening is spent by the fire with a piece of chocolate and a good book. Onboard BCPL's Mobile Library Service bookmobiles, Cynthia can often be found near the new book section, where she is happy to suggest titles for customers looking for a good read. She particularly relishes the challenge of turning customers on to something new. Look for her next time you visit.

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Bloggers

 

Where Joy and Sorrow Meet

In the Shadow of the BanyanGrowing up in a wealthy Cambodian family, seven-year-old Raami enjoys a privileged life until a civil war rips from her the only existence she has ever known. In an elegant autobiographical literary debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner brings to life the 1975 Khmer Rouge capture of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and one family’s extraordinary fight to live.

 

Told through the curious, fearful eyes of a young girl, Ratner’s story is more than the atrocities of revolution. Rather, it is about not losing faith in life’s beauty and goodness. With Raami’s tender, lyrical voice, the reader is introduced to pre-revolution Cambodia, as well as the new reality of forced labor and other unspeakable horrors. It’s a confusing world where being intelligent can mean death. Silence is the key to survival, and family members become lost. Before they know it, Raami, her beautiful mother and younger sister are forced into a peasant’s life. Raami becomes "koan neak srae," a child of these paddies. Her solace is remembering stories told to her by her stoic Sisowath prince father, who once said he writes because "words give me wings."  

 

Rattner's prose is as mellifluous as the Mekong River that Raami longs to see. Rich with similes, Rattner's images are as magical and lovely as they are harsh. In their fullness, the reader sees a Cambodia that is much more than a war-torn landscape and heartbreaking characters who reflect the human tragedy. A small child when the Khmer Rouge took over her country, Ratner strives to honor the lives lost during the genocides. "Sometimes we, like little fishes, are swept up in these big and powerful currents,” Raami's father tells her. Rattner's personal story describes their journey.

 

 

Cynthia

 
 

A Self-Made Culinarian

Yes, ChefMarcus Samuelsson has a fascinating story to tell in his refreshingly candid memoir, Yes, Chef. At its heart is food and family, guided by years of discipline and sacrifice. His lifelong quest to engage customers through their senses with a denouement of flavors has resulted in a winding culinary journey for the Ethiopian-born 42-year old. Today he sits atop the restaurant world.  

 

Samuelsson's passion began at an early age. Orphaned as a toddler, he remembers berbere, the reddish-orange spice mixture his mother sprinkled liberally on their food. Adopted by a middle class couple from Goteborg, Sweden, it was his Swedish grandmother, Helga, who encouraged her young grandson's interests. She introduced him to rustic cooking and layering of flavors. Her signature dish was a roast chicken, which she killed old-school style ("Come here, boom!").

 

The wiry, soccer-playing Samuelsson viewed all his cooking assignments as opportunities. From mopping as a kitchen boy in Sweden to restaurant stints in Switzerland and France and aboard cruise ships, Samuelsson absorbed the diversity of ethnic flavors. At age 24 he earned the position of executive chef of New York's Aquavit restaurant, and a three-star rating from The New York Times.

 

Samuelsson tells his story in an honest, retrospective manner. Growing up in a mixed race family, he didn't become aware of his black identity, and its challenges until older. He once ignored the only other black worker in a kitchen because he was worried what others would think if they were seen talking. That candor is refreshing, as is his poignant description of his return to Ethiopia. A bellwether in an industry known for ego-driven personalities, the reserved, award-winning Samuelsson is as comfortable cooking for a state dinner as he is in the kitchen of his latest New York restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem. Aspiring chefs and foodies will feel at home.

Cynthia

 
 

An Aching Howl

An Aching Howl

posted by:
July 17, 2012 - 7:00am

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeFragile tendrils of emotion swirl together in an attempt to mend the brokenhearted in Carol Rifka Brunt’s stirring debut, Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Set in mid-1980s New York, this coming of age story unfolds against a burgeoning AIDS epidemic and a teenager’s tender awakening to love, loss, and acceptance.

 

June Elbus is a shy, medieval history-loving fourteen-year-old who likes to dress up and retreat to the woods to escape reality. When her beloved uncle, the renowned artist Finn Weiss, dies from AIDS, June is devastated.  Her preoccupied parents prefer not to discuss the reasons he ended up with the illness. Her mother regrets her own missed opportunities at being an artist, while her father seeks simply to keep the family peace. June and her older sister, once inseparable, are now estranged. Even Finn's final gift, a portrait of June and Greta titled "Tell the Wolves I'm Home," turns out to be as complex as the sisters' relationship.

 

Vulnerable and grieving, June begins meeting secretly with her uncle's partner, Toby. Their tentative relationship, eked out of neediness and curiosity in the beginning, evolves into a heartfelt friendship that leads each to understand better the man they both loved, whether or not that love was appropriate. Soul searching never comes without revelations, and Toby and June are confronted with the reality that one never truly belongs to any one person.

 

In June's voice, Brunt lays bare her characters, including Finn, who even in death remains the catalyst for what lies ahead.  An emotionally wrought, thoughtfully rendered work that tackles the issues of the day - AIDS and forbidden relationships, Brunt's story reaches into a reservoir of understanding and compassion that is the ultimate requiem for a loved one.

 

Cynthia

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Proper Dues

Proper Dues

posted by:
July 10, 2012 - 9:00am

Seating ArrangementsUnsavory behavior and social faux pas are as frequent as the rising tide in Maggie Shipstead's character-rich debut novel, Seating Arrangements, where money talks and appearances matter for the privileged few. Set on fictional sun-kissed Waskeke Island, off the New England coast, Winn and Biddy Van Meter are gathering family and friends to marry off their very pregnant daughter, Daphne. It's not long before the three-day wedding weekend uncovers fissures in relationships that neither a Windsor knot nor an Ivy League education can fix.

 

Shipstead expertly crafts a dialogue-rich story with a medley of spot-on characters, whose clumsy narcissism, alcoholic indulgences, and questionable choices lead to many embarrassing stumblings. Plenty of misplaced priorities are on display here, starting with the father of the bride.  Dissatisfied and conflicted with much to lose, middle-aged Winn seems to worry about the wrong things, like coveting a membership in the exclusive Pequod country club as well as a romantic liaison with one of his daughter's bridesmaids. His harried but dutiful wife Biddy turns the other cheek. When the bevy of bridesmaids converges on the island house for festivities, Winn and Biddy's younger daughter, Harvard-educated Livia, creates more chaos by making her own poor choices. It is Egyptian-born bridesmaid Dominique, tall, dark and aloof, who provides with her pragmatic voice keen observations of the family that are at once amusing and sad.

 

Shipstead, a graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, proves at ease moving the plot along and setting the scene; readers will feel they, too, are lulling among sea breezes and fragrant bayberry bushes. Readers of Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan or That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo will find plenty of simmering family dysfunction and social satire to heat up their summer reading.

 

Cynthia

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Listen and Laugh

BossypantsTina Fey’s bestselling memoir, Bossypants, published by Hachette Audio, claimed top honors at the 2012 Audie Awards, announced last week at the Audio Publishers Association's 17th annual Audies Gala  in New York. “Like going out for coffee with an old and funny friend” is how judges described this year’s winner for Audiobook of the Year. Noted for delivering “on all fronts,” Fey was recognized for her stellar performance and a smart marketing campaign that included both print and social media.  Bossypants also won in the Biography/Memoir category.

 

Among other works celebrated, Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large by William Shatner with Chris Regan, won in the Humor category. Produced by Penguin Audio, the opinionated Shatner narrates in his inimitable speaking style, "his rules for life with great panache and shards of autobiographical detail." Dispensing worldly wisdom is all in good humor in the octogenarian’s sometimes messy universe.  For a complete list of winners, visit The Audies website here.

Cynthia

 
 

The Ties That Bind

Father's DayThe Bar Mitzvah and The BeastExploring the bond between fathers and sons requires time, and sometimes great distance. Two authors travel across the country through the peaks and valleys of an emotional roller coaster toward accepting their children for who they are. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger peels back his life’s raw layers in Father's Day: a Journey into the Mind and Heart of my Extraordinary Son. The father of adult twins, Bissinger deals openly with self-pity, guilt and the disappointment at having an intellectually challenged son. He desperately wants to know twenty-four year old Zach better as they embark on a cross-country road trip to all the places Zach has lived. The journey is not easy for either. Bissinger is frustrated by shortcomings they both possess, including his own psychological failings. To tell Zach's story, Bissinger shifts back and forth from present day to past recollections. He authenticates his son's voice by omitting punctuation to capture Zach's enthusiastic ramblings. In doing so, he defines a voice he as a father comes to appreciate as happy, contented and worthy of celebration.

 

Another journey takes place in Matt Biers-Ariel's The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast: One Family’s Cross-Country Ride of Passage by Bike. The author's 13 year old son, Yonah, has been an atheist since kindergarten days; there are no plans for a bar mitzvah here. Instead, to mark Yonah’s rite of passage, Biers-Ariel suggests an ambitious cross-country cycling trip that becomes a family affair. Add to the journey a social action petition on global climate change, overly stuffed panniers, a temperamental used tandem bicycle called "the beast," and relentless convection oven heat for much of the trip. Biers-Ariel is quick to share his awe of nature and spiritual and environmental self-reflection with his son. In the end this travel memoir is a poignant coming of age story sure to please adults and teens alike.

Cynthia

 
 

And DOWN the Stretch They Come

EclipseKentucky Derby DreamsDrive around Maryland’s thoroughbred horse country, and it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque scene than the mare and her foal romping in a shamrock green field. It is equally hard to imagine the carefully orchestrated breeding and the trials of their short lived careers. Just in time for this year's Triple Crown campaign, two new books take an in-depth look at these storied animals whose equine feats define the sport of kings.    

 

In his well-researched biography, Eclipse: the Horse that Changed Racing History Forever,  journalist  Nicholas Clee brings to life the greatest horse of all time and his roguish owner, Dennis O'Kelly. Clee vividly describes mid-18th century Georgian England as a gambler's paradise. In this milieu, the Irishman wheels and deals, until he has purchased the undefeated Eclipse, the freakishly fast chestnut thoroughbred whose astounding number of progeny includes this year's Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another.  How O'Kelly and his brothel-owning companion, Charlotte,  manage to reap the benefits from their chosen activities and turn a racehorse into a breeding stallion for the ages is what makes this historical narrative fun to read.  

 

Fast forward 250 years to Susan Nusser's Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions.  Nusser deftly records the behind-the-scenes pulse of one of Kentucky's elite horse breeding operations as it readies for a new crop of foals. It is an exhausting schedule of barn rounds, meetings, crises, x-rays, and runway-like parading, all in the hope of getting to the yearling sales. Nusser's prose is fast paced and heartfelt. A prime example is when she describes a mare's anguish over the death of a foal: "her wail is steady, coming in waves, one right after the other."  Making it to the finish line is never taken for granted.

 

Horse lovers and historians, including fans of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, will appreciate these revealing glimpses inside the racing world and the fragile four-legged athletes who run their hearts out.

Cynthia

 
 

A Ride in the Blistering Sun

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarArdent convictions entwined with bewitching messages of faith can be a stormy mix, especially when boundaries blur and cultures clash. Two British sisters face this predicament. Their efforts to help establish a Christian mission in rural China extract a high price in Suzanne Joinson's impressive, multi-layered debut novel, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.  

 

The story begins in 1923 in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where new missionaries Lizzie and Eva English join their aloof, determined leader, Millicent Frost. While Lizzie appears passionate, Eva is suspicious of religious conversion and is basically along for the ride, literally. Traveling with her trusty BSA lady's roadster bicycle, Eva hopes to publish her guidebook, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. Meanwhile, another story unfolds in present day London. Frieda Blakeman is feeling alone and dislocated in her life when she meets a homeless man from Yemen who appears one day sleeping outside her door. Their eventual friendship leads the pair to an abandoned flat Frieda has inherited and to a minefield of family history. 

 

Joinson's alternating narrative style sets the stage for what is to come. The parallel storylines share symbolism and metaphors that link together the characters' connection to their world and the ability to escape that connection. It is no coincidence that birds feature prominently in both stories as a symbolic "sense of freedom" or that Eva's bicycle is a "shield and my method of escape."     

 

Drawing on her considerable travel experiences, Joinson transports her readers to an exotic locale, rich with authentic voices and evocative prose. Readers of Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) may enjoy this tale of the traditions and challenges of a world at large.

Cynthia

 
 

A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia

 
 

Dig, Till, Sow

Dig, Till, Sow

posted by:
May 6, 2012 - 7:01am

Grow, Cook, EatSmall-Space Container GardensBuilding Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners

Hope springs eternal this planting season, when a trio of new gardening books suggests that horticultural success is within a trowel's reach for even the palest of green thumbs.  Practical advice, along with enticing photography, perusable tables of content and the indispensable indices (for those in a hurry) hint of an enjoyable journey from inspiration to harvest.  

 

 Tending the garden has never been more fun or delicious in Willi Galloway's book, Grow, Cook, Eat: a Food Lover's Guide to Vegetable Gardening Including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips. As the lengthy title suggests the blogger and former editor at Organic Gardening magazine takes the food lover full circle from seed to table. Waste not is the goal here, and each chapter nicely lays out how to obtain the most from the vegetable's edible parts.   

 

If size matters award winning blogger Fern Richardson guides the space-starved gardener through a potpourri of creative options in Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage & Herbs. From repurposing household items for plant duty to creating a "potager with a twist," Richardson organizes her nine chapters and subheadings according to garden practicalities that all gardeners can appreciate. Budget conserving tips, lovely illustrations and clear directions lead the way.

 

Once the garden is sprouting it's time for garden projects. Veteran DIY author Chris Gleason describes with photographs and detailed directions fun and practical structures to improve your harvest in his latest book Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners: a Guide to 21 Handmade Structures for Homegrown Harvests.  Gleason readily shares his opinion on what works and how to make the process easier. At 160 pages, this slender book has something for everyone, whether it's a squash ramp, a vermiculture bin, or historical look at backyard farming. 

Cynthia