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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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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’s Sister?

Cover art for Vanessa and Her SisterFew collectives of the 20th century grabbed as much attention or gathered as much talent as the prolific Bloomsbury Group. Made up of luminaries of the art, literary and academic world, their indelible stamp on the thoughts and trends of the turn of the century still resonate with fans today. Much has been written and dissected of the Group’s offerings, particularly the writing of E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. While Virginia’s remarkable career and personal struggles may consume most of the spotlight, author Priya Parmar has delved into the mind of Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister, in her novel Vanessa and Her Sister.

 

Told through a series of fictional diary entries, letters and telegrams, Vanessa attempts to carve out her painting career amidst the chaos of falling in love, having children, grieving and dealing with Virginia’s violent and troubling moods. Vanessa often feels on the outside of the literary world she is forced to inhabit. While her friends are off having love affairs and traveling the world at large, she wonders if she is meant to fall behind because of her family obligations. Her creative mind will not allow her to give up on her art. As it becomes clear that Virginia’s jealousy extends beyond Vanessa’s artistic talents and moves to her family life, she grapples with the knowledge of how devious and manipulative the very people she loves most can be.

 

Rich in characterization and detail, fans of the Bloomsbury Group and of novels like Michael Cunningham’s The Hours will find this sumptuous novel a treat for the brain.

 

Jessica

 
 

Confronting Your Bullies

Cover art for Whipping Boy"Eat it, Nosey," he said again. "Only this time make sure you chew."

 

Allen Kurzweil is 10 years old, and his roommate at an elite Swiss boarding school is forcing him to eat bread soaked in hot sauce until tears are streaming down his face and then some. This incident, along with several others at the hand of Cesar Augustus Viana, causes Allen to leave the boarding school that summer after his first year. While the view of the Alps may be far behind him, the memory of Cesar, his tormentor, never dies.

 

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully documents the adult Kurzweil’s journey to track down Cesar and confront him at last. His quest takes him back to Switzerland to look for the ghost of his past in old dormitories, to an ill-fated beauty school in Manila, through New York City law firms and to a Californian federal prison. As he unearths more of Cesar’s movements and where he might be now, Kurzweil finds himself under the weight of tons of documents convicting Cesar in a bizarre international, multi-million dollar bank fraud case.

 

Will Allen follow through on his promise to punch Cesar right in the nose if and when at last they meet? Will all of his meticulous research and a lifetime of reliving the horrors at the hands of Cesar be in vain? More importantly, has Allen’s obsession with bringing Cesar to justice and righting past wrongs turned him into what he has feared: Has he become the bully?

 

Kurzweil’s obsession for all things related to Cesar’s life make this a fascinating read. Biography and memoir fans looking for something a little unconventional will be happy with the level of detail and the thoroughness of the research.

 

Jessica

 
 

Author Interview with Wendy McClure

On Track for Treasure by Wendy McClureWendy McClureWendy McClure’s newest book, On Track for Treasure, is the second installment in the Wanderville series. She has written several books for adults and children including The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, which in 2011 won the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award for adult nonfiction. She is also a senior editor at the children’s book publisher Albert Whitman and Company, producing picture books, young adult novels and the popular Boxcar Children Mysteries. She grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, and now lives in Chicago with her husband. Between the Covers recently caught up with her over the holiday season.

 

Between the Covers: Wanderville ended on a very tense note! Where will we find Jack, Frances, Harold and Alexander as On Track for Treasure, the next book in the Wanderville series, begins?

Wendy McClure: They’ll be in the middle of an escape! And it won’t be just the four of them — the other kids they rescued at the end of the first book will be with them: 10 kids in all! And when trouble hits, they find it’s hard to find places where they can all hide, so they realize their best option is to hop on a freight train out of town. Then it really gets interesting!

 

BTC: One of the most compelling relationships in Wanderville is the connection between Frances and her little brother Harold. In researching the real orphan trains for writing the Wanderville series, did you find that siblings often stuck together? What was your inspiration for Frances’ determination to keep her brother close?

 

WM: When I was researching kids in the tenements of New York City, I came across a photograph showing two or three girls out on the sidewalk holding their baby siblings on their hips. The caption read “Little Mothers,” a term that described girls who had to take care of their younger brothers or sisters all day because their mothers had to work. When I saw that I knew I wanted that to be the backstory of Frances and Harold before they were in the orphanage. Frances would have pretty much raised Harold. As for the orphan trains, I imagine the circumstances of the train journeys would have compelled siblings to stick together as much as they could. But the sad reality is that they were usually encouraged to forget their old lives, including family ties. And then when the placement process began, siblings were often separated, since it was hard to find a home that could take in more than one child. Some siblings were lucky enough to be placed out together, or to at least wind up in homes in the same town, but many more were forced to be apart. In Wanderville, Frances soon realizes the danger that she and Harold are in, and that helps motivate her to escape.

 

BTC: In your book The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prarie, you connect deeply to the books you loved as a child and demonstrated how that love of reading can influence one's future. What do you hope the children who read Wanderville take away from this series?

 

WM: I hope that for kids I can capture the exhilaration of being independent — of having adventures without adults around, of creating and building things on their own. That’s a very basic but important thing. I also hope the books can nurture a curiosity about the past — not just history, but a richer sense of this different world that came before ours. That was certainly one of the things that I loved most about the Little House books.

 

BTC: What challenges do you find writing a series rather than just a stand-alone novel? What about writing children's books versus books for adults?  

 

WM: Writing a series is sort of an odd way to write a long story. It’s like painting a huge mural by starting at one end and then having to paint in only one direction without going back to change or adjust anything. Book one was already published by the time I wrote the third book. It’s fun trying to make everything work, though. As for writing for kids versus adults—it’s hard to say, because the Wanderville books are the first long-form fiction I’ve ever written, whereas my adult stuff is all nonfiction. I remember when I first started working on the books I felt this giddy sense of freedom because I got to make things up. But at the same time, having that freedom can be terrifying.

 

BTC: What are you working on next?

 

WM: I’m just finishing up the third Wanderville book, Escape to the World’s Fair, which comes out later this year. And now I’ve been going through old family photos from the early 1900s. They might help me with another Wanderville book if I get an idea for a fourth book, or I might use them in a new story. Or else I could write an essay about them. I know I’m going to write about them, but I just don’t know how yet!

Jessica

 
 

Ode to Troy McClure, Bill Clinton, Frankenstein and the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

Cover art for You Might Remember Me

For eight seasons on Saturday Night Live, Phil Hartman’s comedic genius delighted audiences. Known as “The Glue” among his castmates, Hartman’s many impersonations and broad characters revitalized the show after one of its darkest periods. Beyond SNL, Hartman was a beloved voice on The Simpsons as well as the bombastic Bill McNeal on the critically lauded show NewsRadio. Poised to make a superstar breakout in several summer films of 1998, life was great for the comedian.

 

But in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998, police released the shocking news that Phil Hartman had been killed by his wife, Brynn, in their home while their children slept. For such a funny man to meet such a tragic end seemed unbelievable as fans, friends and costars tried to make sense of the loss to the comedy world at large. In You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, biographer Mike Thomas stresses that what a person thinks of when she or he thinks about Phil Hartman isn’t his death, but the life of a performer whose talent gave laughter to so many.

 

Chock-full of interviews with family and famous friends, the book delves into Hartman’s childhood — as one of eight children, he often had to “perform” to be noticed. It also highlights his early career as a successful graphic artist (he designed album covers for bands like Poco and America) to his breakthrough with The Groundlings. From helping Paul Reubens hone the character of Pee-Wee Herman to developing his own popular character Chick Hazard, Phil Hartman seemed an enigma: someone committed to performing without really wanting to stick to it for long. He was someone waiting for the next big thing, but only if the next big thing fit in with the lifestyle he wanted.

 

You Might Remember Me paints a picture of a man searching for an identity: one that he could never quite completely cover with wigs and prosthetic noses. It is a great read for fans of Hartman’s work and for those who enjoy biographies of complicated, delicate genius, both in the moment and ahead of its time.

 

Jessica

 
 

Who’s Ready for an Audrey Hepburn Marathon?

Being Audrey HepburnOh Yeah, Audrey!The icon of timeless style for the 20th century, Audrey Hepburn has left a legacy of grace and compassion through her movies, her images and her work with UNICEF. Young adult publishers have picked up on the popularity of all-things-Audrey with the publication of two novels this fall, Being Audrey Hepburn by Mitchell Kriegman and Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw.

 

“Here’s the big secret—Audrey Hepburn is the cure for everything,” says Lisbeth, a bored 19-year-old New Jersey diner waitress in Being Audrey Hepburn. Audrey fans and those who remember Kriegman’s classic Nickelodeon sitcom Clarissa Explains It All will cheer as Lisbeth gets into some wild escapades. Stuck meeting the demands of her alcoholic mother and explosive older sister, Lisbeth spends quality time by herself in a hall closet watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s on a loop and writing a fashion blog titled “Shades of Limelight.” The only people she can depend on for support are her best friend Jess and her grandmother, Nan, who shares her love of Audrey.

 

When Jess needs help at her job at the Met, she rewards Lisbeth with a glimpse of one of the most iconic dresses ever worn: the black Givenchy dress Holly Golightly dons at the open of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Begging and pleading with Jess, Lisbeth puts on the dress and finds herself at the Met gala. Suddenly, she’s the mysterious It-Girl on Page Six. Pop stars and fashion designers are blowing up her phone with text messages. Her humble fashion blog goes viral. Paparazzi are snapping pictures of her everywhere. Can Lisbeth keep herself grounded in her new-found fame, or will she forget her real friends for a chance to be in the spotlight?

 

In Oh Yeah, Audrey!, teen Gemma Beasley has landed in New York City for the weekend of her life, chock-full of Audrey-inspired events and recreating some of the most famous scenes from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The author of a popular Audrey Tumblr called “Oh Yeah, Audrey!,” she sets out to finally meet some of her best Internet friends in person: the flamboyant Brian, the sarcastic Trina and even Telly, who trolls the site. But when Gemma meets up with Dusty, a handsome “almost” stranger, he promises her something more special than just an ode to her favorite icon: a chance to wear one of Audrey’s dresses from the film. Will Gemma abandon her friends and her grand plans to spend her weekend with mysterious Dusty, or will she continue with the careful itinerary she put together for the best weekend of her life?

 

Reading these books is a must for all Audrey obsessives and a wonderful companion for your own Audrey Hepburn movie marathon night. BCPL's collection feature many Audrey Hepburn's most iconic films on DVD, so pick up a few of your favorites, put on your little black dress and enjoy.

Jessica

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Leslie Knope Approved This Message

Cover art for Yes Please by Amy PoehlerAmy Poehler wants you to know that writing a book is very, very hard to do. She handles the pressure well in her memoir, Yes Please.

 

Delving into her deep-rooted love for all things comedy, Poehler shares hilarious stories from her performing past. She shares how, as a 10-year-old playing the role of Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard Of Oz, she was able to get her first audience to laugh and how she has been chasing that feeling ever since. From her college years through her work with improv troupe (and later Comedy Central show) The Upright Citizens Brigade, Poehler stresses the value of hard work as the source of her success. Fans of her work on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation will not be disappointed either — several chapters share inside jokes, back stories and funny mishaps on the sets of both beloved shows.

 

Her vast work experience isn’t the only engaging part of this memoir: Poehler also gets personal. Her reflections on motherhood and raising her two boys, Archie and Abel, demonstrate her creativity in parenting. She doesn’t directly address her divorce with comedian Will Arnett, but does offer a hilarious chapter on some divorce books she would like to someday write, such as “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” and “The Holidays Are Ruined!” There are lots of stories about her friendships with recognizable names, like Tina Fey and Louis C.K. Best friend Seth Meyers also contributes a short chapter.  

 

Inter-chapters feature some interesting “advice,” and the book shows off some great keepsakes: a letter from Hillary Clinton welcoming Archie into the world, a signed photo of The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and many photographs and relics from her childhood, including poems she wrote when she was little.

 

This memoir is perfect for any fan of Amy Poehler, her work or comedy in general. Her wealth of experience in a variety of venues and acts will inspire and educate those looking to “break into the biz,” and her ideas about everything from performing sketch comedy nine-months pregnant to how our cell phones will eventually kill us will amuse and entertain any reader. After reading, pick up some of her best work, like Parks and Recreation or Saturday Night Live: The Best of Amy Poehler on DVD.
 

Jessica

 
 

Belzhar

Belzhar

posted by:
November 20, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover of Belzhar by Meg MolitzerMeg Wolitzer received the attention of most of the top ten books lists of 2013 with her stand-out novel, The Interestings, which tells the story of a group of adults who befriended each other at an arts camp decades before. Now she is getting into the Young Adult literature game with her new novel Belzhar.

 

Jam Gallahue thought her life was perfect: She was very much in love with her handsome British exchange student, Reeve Maxfield. When Reeve dies suddenly, Jam is thrown into an emotional tailspin and is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, yet highly intelligent teens.” At The Wooden Barn, Jam is surprised to be enrolled into a class called Special Topics in English. She’s even more surprised when there are only five students in the class.

 

The teacher, Mrs. Quennell, has hand-selected each of these five students to participate in the class because they’ve experienced a deep trauma: There’s Casey, bound to a wheelchair; Griffin, who is carrying a horrible secret; Mark, suffering from his parents’ divorce; Sierra, whose brother has gone missing; and, of course, Jam. The class is to study the work of Sylvia Plath for the entire semester. She gives each student a red leather journal and requires them to write in it twice a week. Jam is especially hesitant to write her feelings, but when she does, strange things start happening. Reeve appears and things are better than ever between them, but Jam knows their time is limited. Is she really able to connect with him again on the other side?

 

As each of the characters in Special Topics reclaim the part of the lives they are missing through the mysterious red journals, they meet in secret to try to get answers about traveling to the place they call Belzhar: What happens when the journal runs out of pages, and what happens if they never want to leave?

 

The obvious choice to pair with this novel is Silvia Plath’s classic The Bell Jar. The influence of Plath’s work is on every page, even beyond the group discussions of her work in the Special Topics class. Fans of Plath will be excited that a new generation of readers, through this novel, can discover her genius for the first time. Perfect for teens experiencing a tough break up or adults who remember those adolescent pangs, Belzhar speaks to the part of our hearts that have trouble letting go.

Jessica

 
 

Believe in the Possible!

Believe in the Possible!

posted by:
October 16, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Fourteenth GoldfishMeet 11-year-old Ellie. She feels like something of a misfit in her artistic family. Her theater director mother and actor father wonder why she doesn’t have the theater gene, and Ellie worries that she’ll never find her passion in life. Adding to her loneliness, she misses elementary school and her best friend Brianna, who suddenly doesn’t seem to realize she’s even alive. Things aren’t going great for Ellie, and then Melvin appears.

 

Melvin is 13, grouchy and likes to wear old man’s clothes. He only wants to eat Chinese food. He argues with Ellie’s mom about the man she’s dating. He is forced to go to Ellie’s school and he gets detention for yelling about science. In fact, he sounds suspiciously like her scientist grandfather, but how could it be possible?

 

Through Melvin, Ellie discovers her hidden passion all along: science. She learns about famous scientists like Salk, Oppenheimer, Curie and Pasteur. She goes on madcap adventures and failed heists. She asks some difficult questions: are all scientific discoveries good for everyone? What happens if they’re not?

 

Written by three-time Newbery Honor-winning author Jennifer L. Holm, The Fourteenth Goldfish is making itself known on the Newbery Medal blogs as a front-runner for the prize in January. Told with heart, humor and mischief, this is a must-read for all young scientists starting to discover the world on their own and for the adults who want to cultivate the wonder of lifelong learning. It teaches us not to just believe in the impossible, but to believe in the possible!

Jessica

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The Mountaintop School for Dogs

The Mountaintop School for Dogs

posted by:
September 2, 2014 - 8:00am

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second ChancesA hound who has gone mute because he was chained outside with no shelter. A Lab-pit mix who is afraid of sticks. A Rottweiler who was dumped from a moving car and chased it as it sped away. A deaf dog who was given up by her owners when a new baby arrived. A Scottie who was left behind in an abandoned apartment when the owners were evicted. A young woman who has left behind a troubled past and is determined to start anew. These are the colorful characters who make up Ellen Cooney’s The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances.

 

When Evie sees an online ad for becoming a dog trainer, she sees it as an opportunity to reinvent herself. She heads to The Sanctuary, an isolated mountaintop shelter where dedicated volunteers take on the most tragic cases of dog neglect and abuse; there the animals are trained for potential adoption, or in some cases, trained for jobs at the shelter itself. It is readily apparent that the dogs are not the only damaged ones: Staff members, like the authoritarian innkeeper Mrs. Auberchon and the gentle teenager Giant George, suffer from problems in their pasts.

 

The narration of the novel switches from omniscience to Evie’s point-of-view, where the reader is treated to her extensive notes and new glossary for training terms. Items on her list include words like “Patience. Working on it” to “Real. You cannot be fake with dogs.” As Evie makes mistakes and processes them through her glossary, we root for her to come into her own as both a trainer and a person.

 

At the heart of this story is the idea that we humans are not so different from the dogs we love: We all want to be praised for a job well-done, we all want to belong to a pack and we all want to be loved. Dog-lovers who barked for fiction like A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron or nonfiction titles like Jim Gorant’s The Lost Dogs or Oogy by Larry Levin will find The Mountaintop School for Dogs a wonderful warm “tail” of redemption and perseverance.

Jessica

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Family Secrets in a Changing World

When the World Was YoungAmidst the commotion of V-J Day, 8-year-old Wally Baker is enjoying the sights and sounds of a joyous Brooklyn celebrating the end of the tumultuous war; shopkeepers are handing out candy and toys, school friends are marching with tiny flags attached to pencils, and everyone is smiling, laughing and dancing in the streets. Wally’s mother, Stella, is stoically guiding her to her grandmother’s house among the boisterous throng of people, and Wally wishes to be a part of the party. What Wally doesn’t know is that this day, one that changed the lives of so many, will change her life and that of her family forever.

 

Elizabeth Gaffney’s When the World Was Young is a novel of war and its aftermath: both in wars fought overseas and by the intimate secrets that divide a family and people from themselves. Each character–from Loretta, the housekeeper who is more like a second mother to Wally (without receiving the acknowledgement that she is), to Ham, Loretta’s son, to the Baker family’s odd boarder Mr. Niederman–has something to hide, and finds war-time to be the perfect cover-up. “How many other sins and secrets had been papered over by the war?” wonders Mr. Niederman. But after the war, how can those sins and secrets stay hidden?

 

Ultimately, the novel is Wally’s story. We follow her from an 8-year-old girl obsessed with entomology to a young woman who hasn’t quite left her childish outlook behind, even as both her world and the world at large have changed over time. Sexism, racism, family crisis, suicide and other injustices shape her character, and she walks the line between being pitied and admired. Readers who are looking for a novel of definitive time and place will love the descriptions of post-WWII Brooklyn brownstones. Fans of multi-layered character novels and historical fiction, like those of Barbara Taylor Bradford and Penny Vicenzi, will welcome this new novel.

Jessica