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

Maureen enjoys books from every corner of the library, including the children's room. She will share her favorite fun adult books and also give you titles to bring home for the kids! When not working in the Collection Development department, Maureen can be found rooting for the Ravens or relaxing at the Jersey shore.

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The World’s Greatest Crime Fiction Writer?

TakenAccording to The Huffington Post, it’s Robert Crais. You can judge for yourself with Taken, the most recent in his Joe Pike/Elvis Cole series. Taken features a multinational cast of bad guys who buy, sell, and steal one another's kidnapped victims. When professional kidnappers capture a college-age couple who venture into the desert south of Palm Springs near the Mexican border, the young woman's mother hires Cole to find them. Initially, Mom thinks it’s a hoax to get at her money, but Cole quickly realizes that it’s for real and the danger is serious.

 

Through a series of undercover efforts, Cole, Pike, and their sidekick Jon Stone begin to unravel the power balance controlling this web of cartels. As they move to infiltrate the smugglers’ group, Cole himself becomes a kidnap victim. Pike and Stone must find a way to use his capture to aid their investigation and bring justice to the victims. This quickly moving story and realistically sharp dialog will keep readers up past their bedtime. Fans of Crais as well as general mystery readers will enjoy this latest effort. For series newcomers, it is not critical to start with the first title. Crais himself even recommends starting with a title in the middle of the series: L.A. Requiem. The good news is once you’ve polished this one off, there are 14 others waiting in the stacks.

 

While the titles in this series would make a fabulous fit for the big screen, to date Crais refuses to sell the rights to Cole, Pike, and his other recurring characters, preferring to allow his readers to keep their own personal conceptions of the characters.

Maureen

 
 

A World Without the Super Soaker®?

What Color is my World?There’s more to former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than just basketball. In What Color is My World?: the Lost History of African-American Inventors, he and co-author Raymond Obstfeld tackle the book's subject and make it interesting for kids!

 

Twin siblings Ella and Herbie are less than thrilled about their new fixer-upper of a house.  Eccentric handyman Mr. R.E. Mital comes to work on the house and slowly shares with the two the potential of their new home. He also uses different things in the house as a starting point to share contributions made by African-American inventors. Turning on a light bulb prompts a discussion about Lewis Latimer, while working in the kitchen brings up George Crum and his marvelous invention of the potato chip.

 

Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a vice-president at IBM, Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks, and of great importance to children everywhere, nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker® squirt gun! Ella’s notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel-style passages. This surprising and informative exploration of unfamiliar inventors is also fun thanks in part to the realistic banter between the siblings.

 

This is a fun easy read that can be read cover to cover, but the book's layout also makes it an ideal choice for skipping around and reading about those of most interest – like Alfred Cralle, inventor of the indispensable ice cream scoop! A list of books, websites, and videos is included at the end for those who want to keep on learning. And like Ella and Herbie, the reader uncovers a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s real identity.

Maureen

 
 

Baseball's Odd Couple

Driving Mr. YogiFor Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry spring training is a renewal of their friendship. Every spring former Yankees’ pitching superstar Guidry drives to the Tampa airport and picks up former Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Berra. The two go the ballpark, watch games, eat dinner together, and trade stories.  Every day for the next month follows the same pattern. Driving Mr. Yogi is the story of the bond between two men who on the surface appear to share only baseball in common.   The catcher from a poor Italian neighborhood in St. Louis and the pitcher from Cajun swamp country were born a quarter of a century apart, and yet today Guidry calls Berra his best friend.  New York Times reporter Harvey Araton first shared this story last year in an article in the paper and expands on it in this humorous and thoughtful narrative. 

 

It all began in 1999, when Berra was reunited with the Yankees following a 14 year self-exile that began when he was fired by George Steinbrenner.  The rift between the two men led Berra to cut all ties with the Bronx Bombers. The Boss finally offered an apology and Berra went back to spring training where Guidry befriended him. Berra had been a clubhouse mentor during Guidry’s playing days and Ron knew the young players would benefit from Berra’s impressive knowledge of the game and its history. Sure enough, Berra’s casual batting tip changed Nick Swisher's season, and the new ballplayers savored the anecdotes about famous old-timers such as Ted Williams and Don Larsen.    

This is a story of baseball and the rituals of spring training, but it is also a funny and affectionate story of friendship that transcends generations. And yes, it is the Yankees, but even the most ardent Orioles fan will appreciate this engaging story of two likeable sportsmen!

Maureen

 
 

The Bee's Knees

UnBEElievablesThe Honeybee ManBackyard beekeeping continues to rise in popularity and two recent children’s titles spotlight these buzzy critters and their importance to our world.  In UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, this award-winning poet of the natural world offers 14 lively poems.  The subjects of his verses range from bee anatomy, to the different types of bees, to the collapse of bee colonies in recent years.  He uses his trademark wordplay and puns, but also manages to sneak some information into the poems as well.  A paragraph offering further explanation follows each verse and the illustrations bring the words to life. Working in gouache, colored pencils, and collage on paper bags, Florian captures the essence of the world of bees. This is a fun and visually appealing book that comes complete with a BEEbliography.

     

In her children’s debut, Lela Nargi shares the story of Fred from Brooklyn in The Honeybee Man. Every morning, Fred climbs to his rooftop and greets his beloved bees, “Good morning, my bees, my darlings!" His honeybees travel across Brooklyn searching for flowers all day and return with nectar to store in their wax rooms.  At the right time, Fred makes honey which the entire neighborhood enjoys. This beautifully written story accompanied by Kyrsten Brooker's collage-style illustrations offers an inside look at the life of a sweet beekeeper and the honey-making process.  An afterword of "amazing facts" explains more about apiarists, bees' life cycles, and more.  Even the endpapers provide a learning opportunity with labeled diagrams of bees and beekeeping materials. This is an unusual glimpse of beekeeping in an urban setting inspired by two neighbors in Nargi’s New York community.  

Maureen

 
 

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

posted by:
May 15, 2012 - 5:01am

GossipIn Gossip, Beth Gutcheon tackles the wily world of female friendships developed over four decades. The main players meet at Miss Pratt’s School in the 1960s where Lovie Walker is the poor scholarship student from Maine struggling to fit in.  Avis Metcalf is the daughter of distant yet wealthy New York parents, and Dinah Wainwright is loud, proud, and confident.  Lovie remains friendly with both following graduation, but Dinah is resentful of Avis due to a perceived insult.   

 

Lovie is the owner of a swanky dress shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and floats on the edge of the high society circle in which Dinah and Avis are entrenched.   Lovie also embarks on what becomes a decades-long relationship with an older, married man who loves her but refuses to leave his wife.  Dinah and Avis both marry and have children. Dinah's marriage produces two sons but falls apart following her husband’s infidelity while Avis slowly distances herself from her alcoholic husband.  The ladies continue working, lunching, and shopping and deal with the passage of time.  Things come to a head when Dinah’s son (and Lovie’s godson) Nick falls in love with Avis's daughter Grace.  Dinah, still angry at Avis, tries to usurp her role in Grace’s life and put a wedge between mother and daughter. 

 

Lovie serves as an engaging narrator and many of the novel’s most important incidents are revealed to her second-hand.   She hears things through another friend or listens to chatter in a doctor’s office, at a restaurant, and especially in her shop.  This is the gossip of the novel’s title and the gossip that ends up controlling all of these ladies’ lives as confidences are broken or secrets are not shared.  Years pass, complications ensue, and beloved characters die. Gutcheon is an expert at conveying the passage of time and weaving significant cultural events into the fabric of the story while still maintaining her strong characters.   These ladies and their tragedies and triumphs will stay with you long after you finish the last page.    

Maureen

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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

 
 

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 Mark Cuban of China

Brave DragonsFormer New York Times Beijing bureau chief and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Yardley uses basketball as a vehicle to illuminate the global story of the Americanization of China.  In Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing, Yardley follows the Shanxi Brave Dragons for the 2008 season.  He is initially drawn to the team because of the fish-out-of-water hiring of Bob Weiss, a former NBA coach and player.  But the players, officials, and owner also draw him in and all have strong roles in this excellent narrative. 

 

The Shanxi Brave Dragons were and remain one of China’s worst professional teams and owner Wang Xingjiang (“Boss Wang”), a peasant turned steel tycoon, was desperate for improvement.  He promised Weiss autonomy with the players to infuse the NBA way into this team.  Once Weiss landed in China, Wang went back on that promise and refused the players any freedom or individual expression, necessary to truly change their games.  Wang, referred to as the Mark Cuban of China, interfered in nearly every aspect of the game, including sitting on the team bench with his mistress, criticizing performances, and in one case physically assaulting one of his players.

 

This is a fascinating history of basketball in China told with humor and a strong sense of the culture clash between these two countries and people.  Readers meet the players, some from around the world, but most from China. These athletes were recruited in elementary school because x-rays of their skeletal structure led to projections of tallness.   Training and practice took place in a depressing warehouse in Taiyuan, once ranked as the most polluted city in the world.  Coach Weiss had to use an interpreter to communicate with the players and with his assistant Chinese coach, Liu Tie, with whom he faced a constant power struggle.  In addition, there was rampant corruption among game officials and a multitude of cultural obstacles.  All of these elements combined with excellent research and a clear writing style add up to an engaging narrative that will appeal to sports fans and readers who enjoy well-written contemporary nonfiction. 

Maureen

 
 

A Whole Lot of Southern Fried Fun

A Teeny Bit of troubleCharleston pastry chef Teeny Templeton is back and once again finds herself caught up in the crazy in A Teeny Bit of Trouble. Small in stature but big in personality, Teeny is a lovable, quirky heroine who gets embroiled with nutty characters and wacky adventures.  As she says, “It's not every day that I bake a dozen Red Velvet cakes, learn my boyfriend may have a love child, and witness a murder.”

 

Teeny’s relationship with fiancé Cooper Miller is threatened when his high school sweetheart (and mean girl to Teeny), Barb Philpot tells Teeny their flame has been rekindled.  Of course Teeny resorts to surveillance, but her plan goes awry when she thinks that she witnesses Barb being strangled to death by a man wearing a Bill Clinton mask.  On top of that, before her untimely death Barb had ditched her ten-year-old daughter Emerson on Cooper . . . who may be Emerson’s father.

 

Teeny is charged with bringing Emerson back to her legal father in Teeny's hometown of Bonaventure, Georgia.  Once back home, Teeny is faced with bad memories, coded messages from the grave, and a possible black market of human parts.  West's second mystery has all the elements of a madcap Southern comedy sprinkled with deadly secrets and a lovely romance.  Readers who fell in love with Teeny in Gone With a Handsomer Man will be delighted with her continued escapades.  Newcomers will be running back to the first book to catch up. 

 

Michael Lee West lives on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee which helps explain her ability to give readers such vibrant Southern settings in her novels.  She loves animals and also enjoys cooking, tablescaping, and interior design.  Foodies and decorating fans should check out her blog http://www.designsbygollum.blogspot.com/ where she offers “recipes and design for exhausted people” and every Friday is Foodie Friday.

Maureen

 
 

Up the Down Staircase

Up the Down Staircase

posted by:
April 27, 2012 - 1:05am

The Maid of Fairbourne HallFor Downton Abbey fans looking for a fix until the new season starts, try The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen. Meet Margaret Macy who learns what life is like at both ends of the staircase.   Fleeing her stepfather who is trying to gain control of her money, Margaret abandons her pampered upper-class world when she is pressured to marry a man she does not love or respect.  With little money, a wig and glasses for disguise, and help from her own maid, she ends up as a housemaid at Fairbourne Hall.  Unfortunately, Fairbourne is owned by Nathaniel Upchurch, a gentleman who Margaret once spurned in hopes of winning his flashier brother. 

  

Once at Fairbourne, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life.  She learns the maid’s brushes, sweeps hearths, and empties chamber pots.  She has never been so exhausted, but if she can last until her next birthday she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt.  The money will be welcome and it will also ensure her independence.  But a year is a long time and her hopes of remaining hidden seem slim with so many prying eyes visiting Fairbourne Hall.  As a servant who is invisible to her employers, she is able to observe both brothers without their societal masks, and quickly realizes she may have misjudged Nathaniel.  And when one of the family is nearly killed, danger threatens to upset the tranquility of the Hall.

 

The dynamic of the separation between the titled and serving classes adds a strong element to this Regency historical.  Christy Award winner and RITA nominee Klassen delivers another perfect romance with a hint of suspense that is rich in fascinating details about life both upstairs and downstairs in a country estate.  

Maureen