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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Jessica Woods

At the small but mighty Lansdowne branch, you’ll find former high school English teacher turned part-time librarian Jessica presenting Story Time, teaching knitting, and reading all the Newbery and Black-Eyed Susan Award winners. An avid Orioles and Ravens fan, she lives with her Steelers fan husband and their two boisterous rescue dogs. She is more than happy to take your advice regarding her fantasy football team.

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The Star Side of Bird Hill

The Star Side of Bird Hill

posted by:
August 12, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Star Side of Bird HillThe lush setting of Barbados — its rich history and tenacious people — is the backdrop of Naomi Jackson’s elegantly-written debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill.

 

Sixteen-year-old Dionne and her 10-year-old sister Phaedra are shipped to live with their tough grandmother Hyacinth in Barbados to lessen the burden on their ill mother. The culture shock of living in a world apart from their beloved Brooklyn and navigating the tumultuous waters of adolescence in a place foreign to them is starting to wear on their own sense of self and their relationship with each other.

 

Dionne’s desire to be a true American teenager — with parties, dates and taking risks — contrasts sharply with the Bird Hill neighborhood of close-knit women. Whispers of her own mother’s difficult teenage years follow her around, and she wants desperately to be both similar to and separate from that legacy.

 

Phaedra observes how the entire community leans on her grandmother for support, both in this world and beyond. Hyacinth’s practice of obeah, an ancient mysticism of the West Indies, lures Phaedra into learning as much as she can from her grandmother. As the festival time of Kadooment Day draws near, Dionne and Phaedra will have to reconcile their past selves with their new lives, and make a difficult decision about where they want to be.

 

Richly constructed and heartbreakingly honest, this beautiful novel should be at the top of the summer reading list for fans of Zadie Smith and Alice McDermott. Those looking for a new, bold literary voice will find one in Naomi Jackson.

 

Jessica

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Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes

posted by:
July 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura DaveEight Hundred Grapes is what it takes to make a single bottle of wine, and one family’s secrets can’t be contained in a bottle in Laura Dave’s excellent new summer read.

 

Georgia Ford walks out of her wedding dress fitting and shows up at her childhood home on her family's vineyard, still wearing her dress, grappling with a major question about her future life with her fiancé, Ben. Looking for the comfort of her parents and her two brothers, not to mention her mother’s famous lasagna, she finds not everything at their once idyllic Last Straw Vineyard is the way it is supposed to be.

 

Her mother seems distracted and far away, her brothers are barely speaking and her father, well, he’s the workaholic he’s always been, but there’s a difference she can’t quite put her finger on. Then, there’s the grapes: Will this year’s harvest be their best but their last? As Georgia stays in her old bedroom and ignores Ben’s frantic phone calls, she finds herself taking on the responsibility of keeping everything and everyone together: The family she thought nothing could ever break apart, the relationship she thought was invincible and the family business, the one constant beauty they have all revolved around for their lives.

 

If you devoured two of the most popular books of last summer, Rainbow Rowell’s Landline and Emma Straub’s The Vacationers, you’ll love Eight Hundred Grapes. Enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine!

Jessica

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The Doll Maker

The Doll Maker

posted by:
July 3, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Doll MakerJessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne are back and hot on the trail of serial killers in Richard Montanari’s The Doll Maker, the eighth installment of this series about his Philadelphia-based investigators.

 

Byrne is grappling with the impending execution of a woman he put behind bars a decade before. The woman kidnapped and murdered a child, and he is convinced she had a hand in the disappearance of several other children. Determined to get her to confess to these disappearances before she dies, he has to navigate an endless spool of red tape to get close to her. However, there’s a new case developing that will take up all his time.

 

A girl sits placidly on a painted yellow bench as if waiting for a train, a half-smoked cigarette in her fingers. A passing cyclist initially doesn’t think anything is wrong, but then goes in for a closer look. The girl is dead, and the elaborately staged scene around her is part of a sick puzzle designed by killers who call themselves Mr. Marseille and Anabelle. When detectives Balzano and Byrne stumble upon an invitation to tea the next week at the murder site, they know they’re racing against time before the next death.

 

The next death happens, and this time it is two young people, but there’s something even more eerie waiting for the detectives: A doll designed to look exactly like the first victim and another invitation to tea for seven days from now. The victims seem random, but something about them triggers a memory for Byrne about a case he worked long ago.

 

Full of twists and turns and heart-stopping action, The Doll Maker is one to read for those who want to be spooked enough to sleep with the light on. Readers who enjoyed James Patterson’s The Postcard Killers, fans of a series like Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay and those who enjoy the show Criminal Minds will want to dive into the entire Balzano/Byrne series, starting with the first book, The Rosary Girls. 

Jessica

 
 

A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins

posted by:
June 24, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for A God in RuinsKate Atkinson’s powerhouse novel Life After Life garnered impressive reviews in 2013, landing it on many "Best Of" lists for that year. Now she delves back into the lives of the Todd family in her soaring new novel, A God in Ruins.

 

Where Life After Life focused on the time-bending reimagining of the life of Ursula Todd, A God in Ruins’ lead character is her brother Teddy. We see Teddy come of age and go off to war, but this isn’t just a war novel. We are treated to every aspect of Teddy’s life: his marriage to girl-next-door Nancy, raising his daughter Viola and even his interactions with his grandchildren. His multiple triumphs and disappointments make it easy to root for his happiness.

 

The story isn’t chronological — rather it is told back-and-forth between different points of Teddy’s life, leaving the reader to make connections and judgements about events, waiting to see if those predictions are realized. Thanks to the richly developed characters and winning style, the novel is an engaging read. It is a wistful letter to the Todd family, and overall, to what it means to be a part of a family and part of our collective humanity.

 

Atkinson has said that she doesn’t view this novel as a sequel, rather as a companion piece to her previous bestseller. Those who enjoyed Life After Life will be glad to dive into A God in Ruins to catch up with the characters they loved. Both of these novels are also an excellent fit for those who have just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and are looking for a similar great read.

Jessica

 
 

The Last Good Day of the Year

The Last Good Day of the Year

posted by:
June 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Last Good Day of the YearIn Jessica Warman’s new teen mystery, The Last Good Day of the Year, 7-year-old Samantha is startled to see a man dressed as Santa Claus enter the basement of her home while her parents host a New Year’s Eve party upstairs. When he abducts her little sister, Turtle, Sam is paralyzed with fear. She thinks she can identify the man as her older sister’s boyfriend, Steven, and she does to police.

 

Ten years later, Turtle’s body has never been found and Steven sits in jail, convicted of her murder. Sam’s family returns to the house where their nightmare took place. Her older sister, coping with a broken marriage, has been acting strangely. Now, a new little girl in a town not so far away has gone missing. Sam has started to question whether or not she was right in pointing the finger at Steven all those years ago.

 

As the story alternates between the night of Turtle’s abduction and 10 years later, Warman weaves an unsettling tale of one family’s tragedy and its far-reaching implications — not just for those closest to the victim, but for an entire neighborhood. As old neighbors try to rekindle their long-dormant friendships, secrets emerge from that night, leaving Sam, with the help of her childhood best friend Remy, to sift through the clues that may lead her to the truth about her sister’s disappearance.

 

Fans of April Henry’s The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die or Chris Crutcher’s Period 8 will enjoy this mystery with its sharp twists and turns.

Jessica

 
 

Cat Out of Hell

Cat Out of Hell

posted by:
June 9, 2015 - 7:00am

Cat Out of Hell By Lynne TrussFor pet owners, there are two camps on cats: that they’re either wonderful or they’re evil. Lynne Truss’ new mystery Cat Out of Hell, may very well prove both and in turn, flipping the cat-centered cozy mystery genre on its head. In this reality-bending romp, cats indeed have nine lives, but what they do with their nine lives isn’t what we love to see in cute viral videos online. They’re capable of doing The New York Times crossword, staging elaborate hoaxes and committing murder.

 

When librarian Alec, a recent widower who is missing his wife, decides to open a bizarre email, he is thrown into an unbelievable story about murder, mayhem and possessed cats as agents of Satan. At the center of the story is Roger, a seemingly standard tabby who one day starts to speak. Roger describes in-depth the unbelievable story of his relationship with The Captain, an immortal cat looking for a friend. As The Captain’s obsession with proving Roger is worthy of his friendship grows, he will steamroll any humans out of his way. Victims of The Captain’s grand schemes include Dr. Winterton, the man who sends Alec the email; Wiggy, whose sister (and Roger’s “owner”) goes missing under mysterious circumstances; and even Alec’s own wife Mary. As the story unfolds, property is destroyed and deaths are inexplicably tied to Roger and The Captain — putting Alec’s quiet and comfortable world through the wringer.

 

Told through interviews with Roger, email correspondence and even telepathy, Cat Out of Hell is a bold romp for cat lovers who are looking for something different, cat haters who want evidence that cats are not of this world and readers who love a quirky mystery in a style they have never seen before.

Jessica

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Paris Red

Paris Red

posted by:
May 20, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Paris RedThe excitement of the art scene in 1860s Paris is the lush setting for Maureen Gibbon’s new novel Paris Red. When we meet 17-year-old Victorine, she is wearing bright green boots to set her apart from all the other women walking down the street. It is a fashion choice that pays off, as she gains the attention of a mysterious stranger.

 

The stranger reveals that he is an important artist, and he strikes up a flirtation with both Victorine and her roommate, Nise. Victorine feels compelled to choose between her best friend, who she feels as close to as a sister, and this charming artist. But once she models for the artist, she knows her future is secured. She becomes not only his lover, but his most important muse.

 

Jealousy and financial insecurity mars their relationship, but within the confines of the artist’s cramped studio, Victorine is secure that they are creating art that will provoke and shock the outside world. So moved, she begins to paint on her own, at first timid, but then confident in her own talent.

 

The mysterious artist is none other than Edouard Manet, one of the most celebrated artists of the 19thcentury. His work is considered to have given birth to modern art. Victorine Meurent is the face in many of his celebrated works, most notably his controversial masterpiece Olympia.

 

Fans of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, books that tell the story behind legendary great art, will find this book a sensual treat.

 

Jessica

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Paper Things

Paper Things

posted by:
May 14, 2015 - 7:00am

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard JacobsonNavigating the trials of fifth grade is tough enough: tough teachers, difficulties with friends, avoiding bullies and trying to stay “cool” in front of all your peers. In Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s new novel Paper Things, 11-year-old Arianna Hazard has all these complications coupled with the fact that she and her 18-year-old brother Gage are currently homeless.

 

Ari prefers to think that their situation is temporary; Gage had promised when they left their guardian’s house that he had an apartment lined up just for them, but that was over two months ago. Ari has to spend her nights wondering whose couch they will crash on next or where she can hang up her school uniform. Ari had promised her dying mother that she would get into Carter Middle School, a school for gifted children. Unable to find quiet places to study, she’s behind on her schoolwork and hasn’t even touched her application. Instead, she’s trying to ignore the comments from her classmates that her hair is greasy and that she smells bad.

 

Can Arianna find any stability in a world where she needs to protect her cherished folder of cutouts from catalogues amidst a shelter of preteen girls? Will she gain the trust of the teachers at her school enough to earn a leadership position to get into Carter, even when she’s failing her classes? Will she and Gage get what they want most — a home of their own?

 

Parents and teachers looking for a good resource for children in difficult circumstances will find this novel to be a great teachable moment about empathy, kindness and perseverance. Two other great novels that shed light on homeless children are Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and Almost Home by Joan Bauer; both would make great companion pieces to read along Paper Things.

Jessica

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Audrey and Bill

Audrey and Bill by Edward EpsteinThe Golden Age of Hollywood introduced us to luminary icons of the 20th century whose influence radiates to this day; perhaps none more than Audrey Hepburn. Edward Epstein’s new biography Audrey and Bill focuses on Hepburn’s brief affair with the “Golden Boy” of Hollywood, William “Bill” Holden.
 

Unlike today when we are inundated with facts about celebrities every time we turn on our TV’s, computers or phones, the publicists of the 1950s worked overtime to insure the personal lives of the studio’s stars did not invade the public consciousness. And while Audrey and Bill’s whirlwind romance that blossomed when they met on the set of the Billy Wilder classic Sabrina was well-known in Hollywood circles, it was kept largely out of the public eye.

 

Epstein sheds light on the fact that their affair, though brief, shaped many of both Audrey and Bill’s relationships and marriages moving forward in their lives. Both actors, however, never really turned out to be very happy in love despite their tremendous professional successes.

 

There’s plenty more gossip about some of the biggest names of the 20th century in this book that will not disappoint the curious: Humphrey Bogart hated both of his costars! Nancy Reagan tattled to Bill’s wife about his numerous affairs! Bill dated Grace Kelly! Audrey sang to JFK on his last birthday to take away from the intense scrutiny from the Marilyn Monroe version the year before!

 

At times, the book reads like two separate biographies, following each actor through their career missteps and triumphs, through other relationships, children and illnesses. Holden’s death in 1980 due to liver disease and Hepburn’s death in 1993 due to cancer are also chronicled.

 

Perfect beach reading for those who are fans of either star, or just interested in the Hollywood glamour of a bygone era, will find this story of Audrey and Bill a compelling look into the romantic lives of two of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

 

Jessica

 
 

Finding Jake

Finding Jake

posted by:
May 1, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Finding Jake“Shots have been fired at the high school. Calmly report to St. Michael’s across Route 5.” When Simon Connolly gets the text message from his children’s school that there’s been a shooting, he wastes no time getting to St. Michael’s church where he’s expecting to meet his son, Jake, and daughter, Laney. As parents are taken one by one out of the church to be reunited with their children or given the horrific news, Simon waits. His wife Rachel escorts a tearful Laney outside. When he is the last person seated, his heart cannot bear the idea that his son Jake is still missing. As rumors start to spread that Jake was one of the shooters who planned and carried out the attack, Simon is desperate to find him.

 

Bryan Reardon’s new novel, Finding Jake, centers on a tragedy that has become all-too-familiar in news headlines: a school shooting that leaves 13 students dead. Simon’s perspective moves back and forth between the horror unfolding of the present day and his memories of Jake’s birth, childhood and adolescence. It is through these memories that Simon clings to one objective: to mine every detail for a clue that will lead to finding his son. However, as he adds up these details, he cannot help but wonder if he missed signs that Jake could be capable of such a terrible act. As tension mounts, any mundane or trivial memory about Jake consumes Simon and his quest to discover the truth. Compounding his grief is how the media has influenced the court of public opinion into trying and convicting Jake, leaving the entire Connolly family to bear the brunt of the community’s anger and fear.

 

There is no shortage of novels dealing with school violence: Lionel Shriver’s excellent We Need to Talk About Kevin, Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, and Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed are a few examples. Finding Jake is a sharp page-turner that, similar to these novels, will stay with the reader long after the conclusion.

Jessica

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