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

Meghan Menon has the happy fortune to work at the Cockeysville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library in the capacity of librarian. Her reading interests are tremendously varied and are influenced by patron recommendations. Among the genres she holds dearest to her literary heart are children's fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery and meticulously well-researched historical fiction. When not tucking into the latest children's fiction or a well-thumbed copy of Pratchett, Fforde or Wodehouse, Meghan indulges other interests such as a hopeless obsession with ancestry.com, hunting for additions to her art collection, and improvising (mostly) delicious recipes with her husband. Her career as a librarian is the culmination of one of her greatest wishes and she takes joy in providing readers' advisory to patrons from toddlers to adults, in person and through "Between the Covers."

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“No More Half-Measures, Walter.”

Baking BadIn the vacuum following the series finale of Breaking Bad, it stands to reason that the show’s addicts will scramble for another fix wherever they can find it. For some, Better Call Saul is enough. For this particular addict, that scramble led unexpectedly to the pages of Baking Bad: A Parody in a Cookbook by Walter Wheat.

 

Baking Bad cakeA sweet journey through some of the show’s most classic episodes, the recipes in Baking Bad are generously garnished with references to those more compelling moments in the series that first hooked its audience. Including recipes for Meth Crunchies, Mr. White’s Tighty Whitey Bites and Fring Pops, the desserts produced are unmistakably unique, calling forth specific people and scenes in the show.

 

Replete with clever puns, tongue-in-cheek references throughout each recipe and some exquisite illustrations of the completed desserts, Baking Bad is definitely deserving of a prominent place on any Breaking Bad enthusiast’s coffee table. But is it a must have in the kitchen as well? As a distinctly amateur cook and an even more hesitant baker, I wondered if the exquisite works of art bedecking the pages were actually achievable without sacrificing my sanity. Steering clear of any recipes requiring an abundance of fondant or special tools like sugar thermometers, I put some of the simpler recipes to the test. My best result? (See picture to the right.)

 

Ricin Krispies Squares: The results were mighty tasty and surprisingly true in appearance to the results predicted in the book.

 

Those hoping to find inspiration for a Breaking Bad-themed party will definitely find what they’re looking for. While most of the recipes are complicated enough to merit look-don’t-eat centerpiece status, Baking Bad does also include a few higher-yield recipes like the above-pictured that should satisfy guests with an appetite.

Meghan

 
 

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are

posted by:
January 29, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for How to be a ParisianLike members of our social circle, books occupy certain roles in our reading sphere. Goodnight Moon: the childhood friend you don’t see these days, but whom you remember oh-so-fondly. Jane Eyre: that friend of many years who is there when you need her. A Game of Thrones: your current best bud who may actually end up standing the test of time.

 

If How to Be Parisian, Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits were in your social circle, she would be that vivacious friend whom you adore, but also slightly fear — that glamourous, audacious, slightly selfish girl who challenges you to embrace your inner chic. She is intriguing, she is original, and she is not quite stable. She is who you would gladly be for a day… but no longer.

 

Like that friend, How to Be Parisian, by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline De Maigret and Sophie Mas, is best enjoyed in doses.

 

The work of four friends, themselves bona fide Parisiennes, How to Be Parisian offers unique insights into the mind and character of the modern Parisian coquette. Engaging, mercurial and unapologetically egocentric, this quartet of Parisiennes cum authors might raise a few hackles with their blasé attitudes toward certain subjects covered, such as children as accessories or rules for keeping a lover on the side. At such times, the reader would do well to recall that, despite the title’s suggestion, How to Be Parisian is not to be understood as an instruction manual for the reader’s own life. Rather, it is a delicious opportunity to slip into the role of The Parisienne for an hour or so — with all her flaws, foibles and je ne sais quoi.

 

A caveat: Organization of theme is not this book’s strong point. Pithy, engaging monologues, whimsical photography and lists upon lists are where this volume shines. The key to enjoying How to Be Parisian is to remain uncommitted, to dally as it were, among its pages. Flip open the table of contents, ignore the ostensible chapter headings, and select whichever of the enticing subject headings attracts you most. It’s what a Parisienne would do.

 

Meghan

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Finding Denzel

Finding Denzel

posted by:
January 16, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for Right Color Wrong CultureAn absorbing study of a timely subject, Right Color, Wrong Culture is an allegorical tale focusing on the challenges and rewards of cultivating a multiethnic organization. In his thoughtful, carefully composed new work, author Bryan Loritts analyzes the specific kind of leadership needed to make connections and build thriving multicultural organizations.

 

Loritts’ central theme explores the premise that in each ethnic group there exist three faces of cultural expression: C1s, those who assimilate entirely from one culture or ethnic group into another; C3s, who are culturally inflexible, resisting assimilation of any kind; and in the middle, C2s, who are culturally flexible and adaptable without losing their ethnic identity. Personifying these faces, Loritts cites Carlton Banks, Ice Cube and Denzel Washington, respectively.

 

Careful to note the ties between culture and ethnicity while recognizing that one is not de facto the other, Loritts proceeds to examine the specific leadership principles vital to the success of a multiethnic, culturally diverse organization. In the case presented, it is an ethnically and culturally homogenous church that the principal characters are striving to transition toward a multicultural identity. Nevertheless, Loritts’ lessons about balanced, intuitive leadership and the practical challenges present in such a transition are applicable to any organization.

 

One of the most compelling aspects of RCWC is the narrative format Loritts has shrewdly chosen to deliver his message. Though a work of nonfiction, RCWC reads more like a novella. His use of a cast of characters to explore the challenges and viewpoints surrounding the case presented is an effective vehicle for what could otherwise be a polarizing subject. Recommended for readers seeking to promote multiculturalism within their own organizations as well as those readers who are simply interested in engaging in a deeper understanding of multiculturalism overall.

 

Meghan

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Three Cheers for Dads

Three Cheers for Dads

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December 30, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover of Druthers by Matt PhelanCover of Knock Knock by Daniel BeatyCover of Mighty Dads by Joan HolubIt’s no secret that dads can have tremendous influence on their children’s lives. Here are three very different picture books from 2014 which highlight the myriad ways in which dads positively shape their little ones, whether over the course of an hour or a lifetime. Here’s to you, dads!

 

A rainy day. A bored little girl. A dad who takes time to spur his child’s imagination by asking “If you had your druthers, what would you do?” Flights of fancy ensue. In the space of a few pages, author Matt Phelan demonstrates the impact of a dad who simply takes the opportunity to engage in a little play time in Druthers.

 

From author Daniel Beaty comes a tale of the strong bond between father and son over the chasm of many years’ absence. Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me begins with one young boy’s loving memories of his father and the knock-knock game they used to play every morning. One day, there is no knock, and a new and palpable absence begins in the boy’s life. Missing his father, the boy writes a letter urging him to come home. In time, he receives a poignant letter in return. In it, his father encourages his son, reminding him of his love and all the ways in which he will always remain with him. As the letter unfolds, illustrator Bryan Collier’s richly evocative images foreshadow the boy’s path to adulthood and his eventual reunion with his father.

 

Young fans of illustrator James Dean’s Pete the Cat series will warm to his latest Mighty Dads, created in collaboration with author Joan Holub. Sing-song, rhyming text pairs with appealing illustrations of construction machinery in dad and child sizes. Hardworking, protective, patient and encouraging, the mighty dad machines act as teachers and role models to their young companions, who help them over the course of a day at the construction site. Punctuated by satisfyingly repetitive and onomatopoeic descriptors (“Crash, bang, boom!”) and bold, colorful illustrations, Mighty Dads is a deceptively simplistic picture book with an underlying message about the important roles dads can play in their children’s lives.

Meghan

 
 

Downton Abbey: Rules for Household Staff

Downton Abbey: Rules for Household Staff

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December 15, 2014 - 8:00am

Downton Abbey: Rules for Household StaffWritten from the perspective of Downton’s own trusted butler, Carson, Rules for Household Staff is anything but the dry instructional manual its title would suggest. Carson’s careful and precise introduction brings a depth of dignity to the serving class in keeping with the series’ sensitive depiction of its members.

 

Referring to servants as Improvers of Lives, Carson likens those who enter the profession to “doctors and nurses” who “heal and make well lives that can be fraught with worry and responsibility.” Clearly, those who serve – at least at Downton – are called to do so, and by the correct and efficient discharge of their duties, they may aspire to master their chosen career. To this end, the remainder of the volume is dedicated.

 

Replete with useful notes and instruction on a staggering variety of practical duties and behavioral obligations, Rules for Household Staff is a surprisingly concise and markedly engaging read. Readers who follow the series will develop a deeper understanding of the downstairs characters in Downton, as well as a keener appreciation of the responsibilities each member of the household bears in the running of the abbey. Along the way, readers may also pick up some unexpectedly useful skills, such as napkin folds, the proper procedure for decanting wine and a nontoxic method for ridding the kitchen of flies.

 

Recommended for history enthusiasts and in particular for fans of the Downton Abbey series. Those who have already enjoyed Rules for Household Staff may also appreciate The Chronicles of Downton Abbey.

Meghan

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Ye Gods!

Ye Gods!

posted by:
October 28, 2014 - 7:00am

Percy Jackson's Greek GodsSo you raced through the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, all the way from The Lightning Thief through The Last Olympian. Then you settled into the Heroes of Olympus series, flying through those tomes like Hermes fleeing Typhon. Now you’re just waiting around for your copy of The Blood of Olympus to hit the hold shelf and your journey through all things Greek and godly will be complete.

 

Probably think you’re an expert on Greek mythology by now, right?

 

Think again.

 

Sure, you know all about Zeus, Athena, Poseidon; all the poster children of Greek legend and lore. And by now you’ve gotten a handle on what it means to be a demigod. But how about Minthe or Metis? Thetis or Themis? Ring any bells? Face it, when it comes to real expertise, you’ve got a ways to go. Fortunately, Professor Percy Jackson has got your back.

 

Here to guide you through the chaotic origins of Greek mythology, including nymphs, lesser gods, heroes and upstart mortals of latter days, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods covers it all.

 

Not in some boring lecture-style either. Nah, Percy wouldn’t have the attention span for it, and you don’t have TIME for that right now anyway! You’re about to embark on the very last book in the Heroes of Olympus series for Pan’s sake! Percy knows that and doesn’t want to shake your focus.

 

But seriously, at a time like this, do you REALLY want to face Gaea without a complete working knowledge of the whole Greek godly shebang? When you’re in the thick of battle, you don’t want any multi-headed, poison-dripping surprises. So while you’re waiting for The Blood of Olympus, do yourself a favor and brush up on your myth know-how. You’ll be glad you did.

Meghan

 
 

Sibling Storytime - A Reasonable Compromise

Cover art for Jack and JillCover art for Hickory, Dickory, DockCover art for Humpty DumptyWe library-goers are in the know: Reading to your little ones from an early age can provide an early literacy boost. And the earlier you start, the bigger the boost! Of course, for parents of more than one young child, the two or three year gulf separating bouncing baby from precocious tot can complicate communal story times. Baby has a penchant for crumpling pages in picture books. Your toddler is easily bored by the simple words and lack of plot typical of board books.

 

Enter Charles Reasoner.

 

This veteran author/illustrator features indestructible reads which are nevertheless engaging for older siblings. Bright, full-color images and sturdy board pages will hold a baby’s attention, while die-cut pages and rhyming text will keep older siblings amused. Eschewing the traditional rectangular shape, Reasoner’s playful curvilinear pages combine to mimic a three-dimensional picture, inviting young readers to enter the book and explore its interior scenes in greater detail. Beyond the colorful images and rhymes, Reasoner’s books also boast some surprisingly subtle touches, such as background character comments and seek-and-find opportunities for older children.

 

Reasoner is the author and/or illustrator of over 200 works, but the following series are particularly well-suited to bridging the young sibling story time age gap: Nursery Rhymes, Holiday Books and Peek-a-Boo!. Be sure to check out the newest titles to hit your library shelves this fall, including Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock and Jack and Jill, as well as fresh holiday favorites: Peek-a-Boo Elves, Peek-a-Boo Reindeer, and Peek-a-Boo Snowman.

Meghan

 
 

Pandas and Tigers and Wolves, Oh My!

Pandas and Tigers and Wolves, Oh My!

posted by:
August 28, 2014 - 8:00am

The Hybrid TigerFrom panda parents to tiger moms and wolf dads, prescription parenthood has gained a toehold in our culture. And it’s little wonder. In a world of increasingly global competition, it’s understandable that today’s parents question whether the way they were raised is an effective model for the next generation.

 

Some authors have sought to capitalize on this cultural anxiety, confirming fears of parental inadequacy and boldly prescribing a veritable menagerie of methods for ensuring the success of our children. Perhaps the most controversial of these is Amy Chua, who’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which outlined what she termed “Chinese parenting,” caused a stir across the country.

 

Now, in The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids, Quanyu Huang presents a gentler, less abrasive analysis of the differences between Chinese and American parenting.

 

As a product of Chinese education and culture himself as well as the parent of a child raised in America, Huang presents a uniquely balanced perspective on the subject. Acknowledging the undeniable academic success of Asian and Asian-American children, he also draws attention to the post-academic success of many adult products of the American experience, who seem to “catch up” in the college years. Instead of ascribing to an either/or model, Huang advocates “co-core synergy education;” a compromise between the Asian style of parenting and the American.

 

Huang’s premise is an interesting one and bears reflection. If The Hybrid Tiger has one flaw, it is that the text occasionally suffers in its execution, feeling at times a little awkward. Huang’s samples of questions from Chinese/American parents feel a little forced and seem to function as a platform for his own interpretation of what these parents should be asking rather than as actual examples of questions he’s encountered from either set. Nevertheless, the overall message is a unifying and commonsensical one emphasizing parental involvement in academic discipline without sacrificing socialization and creativity.

 

Readers who enjoy The Hybrid Tiger may also enjoy The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids–Without Turning into a Tiger by Shimi Kang.

Meghan

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Magic and Memory: A Tale of Two Tricksters

Cover art for The ConfabulistMartin sits in a doctor’s office.

 

He experiences disquiet bordering on irritation as the doctor laboriously details the characteristics of his diagnosis. Later, his mind drifts and he is relieved from the intolerable present by the welcome intrusion of a memory. That picnic from a summer’s day so long ago; the hum of the bees, the drone of his parents’ languid conversation; the soft edges of a single cotton ball cloud scudding overhead. It is a memory worth keeping, even if it never happened.

 

He sighs. It’s been getting more difficult to know the difference these days….

 
Martin’s recollection of the past is changing. Increasingly, confabulations are taking the place of his real memories, and he knows it won’t be long before the truth of what happened in the distant past is lost. But what is truth and what is illusion? What happens when the line separating the two becomes permeable? In The Confabulist, Steven Galloway plays with these questions as he explores the fateful connection between the humble Martin Strauss and Harry Houdini, the greatest illusionist who ever lived.

 

Like so many illusions up the magician’s sleeve, The Confabulist is replete with misdirection and second guesses. From the first pages, Galloway puts us on notice that the narrator cannot be implicitly trusted. The story that follows is therefore as much a game of detective work for the reader as it is a work of historical fiction. Galloway’s skillful interplay between past and present, confabulation and real memory, will keep the reader speculating throughout the intertwining tales.

 

Readers who enjoy Galloway’s treatment of the themes of memory and Victorian spiritualism may also enjoy Emma Healy’s debut novel Elizabeth is Missing.
 

Meghan

 
 

Steam and Grime in Victorian Times

catalog.bcpl.lib.md.us/polaris/search/searchresults.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.6&type=Default&term=Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times&by=KW&sort=MP&limit=TOM=*&query=&page=0London:
 

Ten-year-old Jack Foster has never been the center of his parents’ universe. Spending much of the year at boarding school, Jack’s infrequent trips home to smog-choked Victorian London are fraught with awkwardness, boredom and his own guilty anticipation of returning to school.
 

So when on one visit home Jack spies Mr. Havelock, his mother’s mysterious new spiritualist, opening a door where no earthly door should be, he jumps at the chance for adventure and follows...
 

Londinium:
 

...into a magical world that so closely mimics our own, the line between what is mechanical, what is magical and what is alive has long been blurred. Here the air is thick with smoke, and many residents are obliged to wear goggles and nostril grills to shield them from the noxious atmosphere. Whole, flesh-and-blood children are rare and prized by Londinium’s ruler: the Lady. Now, the Lady requires a new, perfect son and she’s set her sights on Jack.
 

As keen as he was for adventure, Jack isn’t so sure he’s ready to be adopted, and the Lady’s previous son, Mr. Havelock (aka Sir Lorcan), isn’t happy about being replaced. This new world is not without friends though, including Beth, a wind-up doll with an attitude, and Dr. Snailwater, the scientist who created her. If Jack wants to escape back to his own world, he’ll need the help of his new friends and that of the Gearwing, a powerful, mythical creature that no one has seen in years.
 

Emma Trevayne paints an atmospheric and eerily entrancing landscape in Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, her middle-grade steampunk debut. Boasting excellent world building, characteristic of the steampunk genre, gorgeous cover art and an independent protagonist with amusing supporting characters, Flights is best suited for younger middle-grade readers.
 

For all the narrative merit displayed in much of the story, Flights does suffer from some underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved plot devices. Among these weaker elements are the obscure motivations of the Lady in continually craving perfect, eternal sons in the first place, as well as the underdeveloped mythos of the Gearwing itself. As a standalone novel these flaws are prominent, however, in the larger context of a series (should Ms. Trevayne continue to expand Jack’s horizons) these shortcomings might be camouflaged.
 

Meghan