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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 One Said it Would Be Easy

The Gift of Fire/On the Pead of a PinFans of renowned mystery author Walter Mosley’s distinctive prose and earthy characters will likely associate the author with his iconic Easy Rawlins series. Yet in this first dual installment of his planned Crosstown to Oblivion series, Mosley turns his imagination away from private eye noir to the realm of SciFi Fantasy. Twin novellas, The Gift of Fire and On the Head of a Pin, are combined in a single volume and are uniquely packaged in a flip-to-read format, with one cover featuring each title and related imagery.

 

In The Gift of Fire, the god Prometheus breaks free of his chains to deliver to humanity a second gift – to lead mankind’s souls from darkness to a place where they can become one with the godmind. To do so he must find a soul capable of being imbued with the gift of such powerful Knowledge. In On the Head of a Pin Joshua Winterland is chronicling the development of a new ground-breaking animatronics technology known as “the Sail”, intended to revolutionize the entertainment world. To Josh’s surprise and the consternation of the innovators, the Sail offers more than it was intended to and soon Josh finds himself connecting with beings and events in time and dimensions far removed from his own.

 

The stories as presented are largely unconnected and could easily stand on their own. The singularly significant link between the tales is an underlying theme of Humanity’s brush with the Divine and the consequences which might result. It is an ambitious theme which other authors might shy away from exploring in the novella format. Yet where others might hesitate, Mosley boldly unites philosophy and entertainment in a winning duo. Those who have already read and enjoyed Gift of Fire and On the Head of a Pin may also appreciate the next twofold installment in Mosley’s Crosstown to Oblivion series, Merge and Disciple, to be published in October, 2012.

Meghan

 
 

Every Signature Has a Secret

Every Signature Has a Secret

posted by:
September 5, 2012 - 7:55am

Signed By: ZeldaSigned By: Zelda is a refreshingly humorous and clever mystery for kids. In it, author Kate Feiffer takes her readers along for a ride as eleven-year old neighbors Lucy Bertels and Nicky Gibson collaborate to solve the mystery of Grandma Zelda’s sudden disappearance. Lucy is a budding graphologist (handwriting expert extraordinaire), and the newest resident of a West 68th Street apartment building in New York. Nicky is Lucy’s overhead neighbor, a boy whose TOA (Time-Out Average) means he spends three days out of four in trouble with his dad. Nicky’s Grandma Zelda is an extraordinary lady who has had more adventures in her lifetime than most could imagine. Pigeon frequents the windowsills of each apartment and is a friend to all three. It is Pigeon who delivers a mysterious note that will unite Lucy and Nicky in the search for the elusive Zelda.

 

The addendums to the book are almost as much a pleasure to read as the story itself.  Feiffer’s research into graphology and her interest in the characters she has so skillfully constructed is self-evident. In the addendums, she provides such unexpected treats as a handwriting quiz for children and the recipe for Grandma Zelda’s famous Zeldaberry pie. Recommended for middle grade readers, especially for those who enjoy mildly flawed characters and a dash magical realism. Readers who enjoy Signed By: Zelda may also find satisfaction with Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt or Horten’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans.

Meghan

 
 

Farewell Summer, Live Forever

Shadow ShowThis summer, the world suffered the loss of literary giant Ray Bradbury. In the same summer, we found him again between the pages of a remarkable new anthology: Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury. Twenty-six of today’s finest authors, some bestsellers, some living legends in their own right, have come together in this anthology to pay tribute and to immortalize the magnificent mind and imagination of Bradbury. The collection, prepared prior to the honoree’s passing, includes a poignant yet humorous introduction by Bradbury himself, in which he expresses his love and gratitude for his literary children and welcomes the reader to enjoy the family reunion within. 

 

In Shadow Show Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dan Chaon, Alice Hoffman, David Morrell, Sam Weller and a score of other immensely talented authors have contributed a diverse range of original short stories in celebration of the life and works of the Teller of Tales. Some stories are laced with deliberate allusion to individual Bradbury works, while other compositions display a subtler, more effervescent influence. Each tale is concluded with a uniquely personal author’s note, explaining the influence either Bradbury or a story he wrote has had on the author’s life and the story contributed. As one reads through the tales and accompanying notes, it becomes apparent that what makes this anthology so very special is not so much the talent of the contributors– though considerable – as the genuinely mindful  care taken by each author to create something worthy of their literary papa.

 

Bradbury once recounted the story of how he became a writer, citing a surreal, almost dreamlike encounter with a magician in his childhood. Sharing a chance meeting and ensuing conversation one afternoon following a funeral, the magician confided to the boy that in young Bradbury he saw the soul of his best friend reborn. As many will readily agree, to read Bradbury is to know him like a best friend known lifelong. As the contributing authors so skillfully demonstrate in Shadow Show, though Mr. Bradbury may have passed from this realm, his indelible influence will live forever.

 

Meghan

 
 

Forecast: Adventure with Chance of Danger

The Storm MakersJennifer E. Smith’s first middle grade novel The Storm Makers begins on a deceptively peaceful morning on a farm in Wisconsin. It was early when 12 year-old Ruby McDuff spied the tall, disheveled stranger in a wrinkled blue shirt with silver buttons. With her nosed pressed to the glass of her bedroom window, she watched him yawn before strolling out of the family barn and away toward the main road.

 

Miles away from the nearest town and a day’s journey from the blissfully normal suburb where they used to live, the McDuff‘s tiny farm isn’t exactly walking distance from anywhere. So what could explain the stranger with the long legs and bright buttons ambling away down the lane?

 

Once, Ruby would have leapt to wake her twin brother, Simon. Once, they would have made up stories together about where the stranger had come from, or searched together for clues. That was all before, though. Before they had turned 12; before their parents left their jobs to live off the land; before, when Simon and Ruby had been two parts of one whole. These days Simon has been distant in a way he never was before. Alternately restless and sullen, teasing and resentful, Simon’s moods seem as changeable as the weather lately. Even the dogs seem to avoid him.

 

Yet even as they seem to drift apart, avoiding each other this summer seems impossible. An oppressive drought has settled in and boisterous, heated winds toss dust from one end of the farm to the other, coating all who venture outdoors in a fine, powdery grime.  Little can the twins imagine how this drought, the stranger in the barn, and a coming storm will change everything they have known, about their world and about themselves. For Simon is a Storm Maker, one of a group of incredibly rare individuals with the power to influence the weather. And he just may have flared up in time to stop a disaster of untold proportions. That is, if Ruby can protect them both from the dangerous ambitions of the most powerful Storm Maker.

 

A spirited read, The Storm Makers is recommended for readers who enjoy a blend of adventure, magic and mystery.

Meghan

 
 

Four Princes Suffering from an Identity Crisis

The Hero's Guide to Saving your KingdomAuthor Christopher Healy offers the refreshing The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, delving into the lives of four unsung heroes known collectively as Prince Charming. Inside we discover...

 

Frederic: When he met Ella once upon a dance floor, proper Prince Frederic (a.k.a. the Prince Charming of Cinderella) literally swept her off her feet. After his teensy-toed love had been located, they became engaged. But then Frederic discovers a note from Ella, gently informing him of the end of their engagement and her intent to pursue adventure. Ella’s flight and Frederic’s determination to follow ultimately lead this Prince Charming (and the other three of that moniker) to find one another.

 

Gustav: Gustav has always been overshadowed by his older brothers and wrestles with the need to prove himself a hero. It doesn’t help that his love, Rapunzel, ended up rescuing him with her daring, persistence and magically healing tears.  Now a laughingstock in his own kingdom, by the time he meets Frederic, Gustav is disgruntled and more determined than ever to prove himself.

 

Liam: Of all the heroes worth singing about, the bards really dropped the ball when they failed to name Liam, star of Sleeping Beauty. Since childhood, Liam has performed feats of the greatest daring and has enjoyed an excellent reputation among his people.  Yet when his intended, Briar Rose, reveals her waspish, mean personality and Liam decides to call off the wedding, his subjects are anything but supportive. Rejected and determined to restore his reputation as a Good Guy, Liam is off questing for adventure when he encounters Frederic and Gustav.

 

Duncan: Duncan is a bit of an odd duck who since the time of his princely boyhood has been convinced that he is gifted with magical luck (he isn’t).  He also has some rather off-putting habits like loudly naming any animal he sees. Happily, his bride Snow White loves him dearly. Yet sometimes even Snow needs a break from Duncan, and it is when he is left on his own in the forest that he meets the trio of princes. From there, the real adventure begins.

 

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a story of many parts: know-it-all dwarves, dastardly thieves, kidnappings and well-mannered giants. At its heart though, it’s a story of the friendship between the four flawed, fastidious, courageous and just plain weird individuals behind the mask of Prince Charming. Written to appeal to middle-grade readers, the humorous novel will also tickle the fancy of older readers. And with the movie rights under contract and two more books expected in the series, the adventure will soon continue.

Meghan

 
 

Nancy’s Worlds

Nancy’s Worlds

posted by:
July 31, 2012 - 8:30am

Fountain of Age:StoriesIn her latest collection of short stories, Fountain of Age: Stories, author Nancy Kress offers her readers nine glimpses into futures fantastic, paired with human impulses as old as time.

 

In "End Game" an extraordinarily gifted seventh-grade boy named Allen is carried screaming from math class. He has come to a revelation that will alter the focus of his world and the world of those around him, half a lifetime in the future. In "Images of Anna" photographer Ben is increasingly flummoxed when the glamor portrait shots he takes of his latest client turn out to be anything (and anyone) other than he’d expected. In "Laws of Survival" Jill, a shattered survivor of The War, finds the most unlikely means of healing while trapped aboard an extraterrestrial outpost with 19 dogs. In "By Fools Like Me" Hope’s grandmother grapples with the morality of relinquishing a cache of sinful Pre-Crash artifacts to her society, which is hobbled as much by its ignorance of history as by its fear of repeating it.

 

Kress works in the media of human emotions upon the surfaces of extraordinary situations with the subtlety and skill that Andrew Wyeth once applied egg tempera to panel. The stories contained with Fountain of Age are provocative, mildly disturbing, and at times oddly wistful. They represent a curious blend of styles, at one turn reminiscent of O. Henry, at another, Shirley Jackson, yet in every respect distinctly Kress’ own.

 

Kress is recommended for readers who are short on time but crave well-crafted situational tales capable of fully absorbing the imagination. Those who have already read and enjoyed Fountain of Age may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Shadow Puppets.

 

 

Meghan

 
 

Drift Away and Dream of These

Drift Away and Dream of These

posted by:
July 18, 2012 - 7:15am

Far Away Across the SeaFrom the imagination of Dutch author and poet Toon Tellegen, comes Far Away Across the Sea, a collection of short stories tailor made for companionable adult/child reading. A comfortable collection of undemanding tales on its surface, the lulling prose is well suited for bedtime reading. Yet the themes related in Tellegen’s episodic vignettes are deceptively simple. Notably lacking in any overt plot or ongoing storyline, Tellegen’s almost Zen-like stories quietly highlight the subtleties of social exchange among friends, acquaintances and the inner self.

 

Through the tales of anthropomorphic characters Squirrel, Ant, Mosquito, Glowworm, Thrush and others, the author suggests gentle lessons. These cover many concepts, including friendship, persistence, the dangers of absolutes, the absurdities of fighting, personal reflection, and the everyday melancholy and pleasure encountered from moment to moment in daily life. The gracefulness of the stories themselves is matched by the delicacy of illustration present on nearly every page of the book. Illustrator Jessica Ahlberg’s interpretation of the characters and environment sketched in Tellegen’s fables is as deft and skillful as if she had imagined them herself. Her juxtaposition of illustration to text resoundingly echoes the traditions of A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter.

 

Tellegen’s stories are ideal for young readers and listeners receptive to commonplace curiosities, like a tree picking up its roots and walking away for a time, or a squirrel who writes letters to himself and gets courteous and thoughtful responses. Widely open to interpretation, the fables recalled in Far Away Across the Sea invite children and parents to make up their own stories and background for Squirrel, Mosquito and other occupants of the Woods. These tales are recommended for bedtime readers and young philosophers; for fans of Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit. The collection may also serve as a helpful stepping stone for parents introducing their children to poetry.

Meghan

 
 

Not As Easy As It Looks

Not As Easy As It Looks

posted by:
June 27, 2012 - 8:34am

The One and Only IvanMeet Ivan…just Ivan, please.

 

Ivan is an adult male gorilla - a silverback - born to defend his domain and protect his family. Or at least, in Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, that’s the way it usually works. Instead, Ivan has spent the last 27 years as the main attraction at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.

 

Here, he can survey his entire domain without even standing. Here, there is no one to protect.

 

With enough time you can get used to almost anything, though. If nothing else, Ivan has had a lot of time. He’s not alone either. Ivan’s social circle includes Bob, a dog of dubious origins, and Stella, Ivan’s co-star at the Big Top Mall, an elderly and sweet-natured elephant who forgets nothing. Then there’s Julia, the janitor’s daughter who sits across from Ivan’s domain most evenings, completing homework and turning out dazzling drawings of Ivan, Bob and Stella. That’s something she and Ivan have in common – a passion for creating art. That and an endless supply of crayons.

 

Ivan’s life, with something to draw (mostly bananas), and friends to keep him company, is bearable if monotonous. Yet the life to which Ivan and the others have become resigned is about to change in ways they could never have imagined. And it all begins with the arrival of a baby elephant named Ruby.

 

It has been a long time since Ivan has known either the luxury or the agony of hope for another kind of life. With Ruby’s arrival though, he begins to awake to the reality of his situation and to the precarious state of Ruby’s own destiny. A singular and selfless object begins to develop in Ivan: he must shield hopeful Ruby from the state of apathy that has been his lot, whatever the means. At long last, Ivan has someone to protect.

 

Young readers who feel an affinity with animals and those who have enjoyed such animal rescue tales as E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath will flock to The One and Only Ivan. Inspired by a true story, this title is also recommended for readers who may find that the brevity of the chapters and the first-person narrative combine to create an unusually engrossing encounter with the main character.

 

It should be noted that unlike most stories of a related rescue theme, Ivan’s is of an altogether rarer sort. Despite his narrative - the tale is related largely through the gorilla’s own inner dialogue – Ivan is no human character in animal garb. Instead the author smoothly manages to convey a sense of Ivan as the silverback gorilla he is. Sentient and courageous, a true survivor, yet neither particularly imaginative nor overtly rebellious, Ivan’s character is rendered the more poignant for the simplicity of his ambition and the motive that drives him.

Meghan

 
 

Prelude to a Canticle

Prelude to a Canticle

posted by:
June 8, 2012 - 6:01am

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the FallIt wasn’t dark. It wasn’t light. It wasn’t anything except cold. 

‘I’m dead,’ thought Pete.

But of course, he wasn’t.

 

From the first page and as effortlessly as a beam of light slipping through panes of glass, author Nancy Kress eases the reader into a remarkable narrative of many faces. Simple and compelling, atheistic and allegorical, neither utopian nor dystopian, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is a story of humanity in incubation.

 

After (2035): Earth’s fragile population consists of 19 humans living in captivity: five Survivors of the Fall, six genetically mutated and infertile offspring, and seven exquisitely precious Grab children. To each, the smooth walls of the Shell represent a prison and a home. At 15, Pete is among the oldest of the Six and one of the few children born to the original 25 Survivors. In ten minutes time, he will risk his life to save humanity – again.

 

Before (2013): Mathematician Julie Kahn has been collaborating for months with the FBI, tracking a tenuous pattern of mysteriously linked kidnappings and burglaries occurring along the eastern coast of the United States. A few hysterical parents babble incoherently about their babies having been snatched by misshapen teenagers before disappearing in dazzling streaks of light. Their sputtering accounts are largely ignored, except by Julie and Gordon, her FBI contact and onetime lover. Following a complex algorithm she’s devised, the next attempt may be the kidnappers’ last.

 

During (2014): Beneath the soil and all around the world, tiny mutations begin to occur almost simultaneously in the bacteria surrounding the root systems of clover, grass and other diverse plant life. By the time a low swell of awareness of the rapidly increasing dead zones boils into full blown paranoia, it will be too late for the humanity that was.

 

In this Janus-styled tale, Kress weaves together the converging paths of these very different slices of humankind. Juxtaposing contemporary characters such as Julie Khan against those stripped of the context of a complex society, such as Pete, Kress brings an unusual focus to the pause between disaster and rebuilding, after the fall of a society and before its rebirth. One notable trend in the sci-fi genre in recent years has been a tendency to employ near-future settings as narrative backdrops – scenarios which could conceivably come to pass in a generation or so. Here, Kress takes this trend one bold step beyond many of her peers by incorporating a disquietingly immediate future (2014) as the stage for the Fall itself. A cautionary tale as much as a work of science fiction, this title will have widespread appeal among readers of diverse reading habits. Those who have enjoyed Walter Miller’s timeless A Canticle for Leibowitz may particularly appreciate the cyclical nature of Kress’ narrative and her treatment of humanity in stasis, before the cycle begins again.

Meghan

 
 

Horten Finds a Clue

Horten Finds a Clue

posted by:
May 16, 2012 - 1:11am

Horten's Miraculous MechanismsSummer is off to a doleful start for 10-year old Stuart Horten. Stuart is the pint-sized son of exceptionally tall, exceptionally brilliant parents (his mother is a doctor and his father is a crossword puzzle constructionist). Clever as they may be, Stuart’s parents aren’t always the most sensible sort of people. This can surely be the only explanation for why they’ve chosen to uproot young Stuart just at the start of summer vacation, to move to nobody-knows-where Beeton. With the start of the school year and any reasonable opportunity of meeting kids his own age a far removed prospect, Stuart prepares to settle in for a very long, exceptionally dull summer.

 

Beeton does have one claim to familial fame and Stuart’s interest. It was here that his great-uncle Tony developed a dazzling career in magic, before mysteriously disappearing fifty years ago. However, those magical days are long gone; the mystery of Uncle Tony’s disappearance unsolved and mostly forgotten. Until this summer, that is.

 

Stuart resigns himself to exile in Beeton. However, he wasn't prepared for the meddling triplet girls next door, or the seriously spooky encounter with an out-of-order telephone booth. With one mystifying phone call, Stuart is set on a path of puzzles and clues, designed by his great-uncle Tony to lead the “right sort of boy” to an altogether splendid secret workshop filled with marvelous – perhaps even miraculous – mechanisms. With clues afoot, newfound friends at his back, and even a hint of danger in the air, Stuart’s summer is swiftly turning into the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms is perfect for children ages 9-12 and in particular for children who enjoy elements of mystery and puzzles in stories. Parents will also appreciate the expansive introduction to vocabulary provided by the dialogue of Stuart’s crossword clue-dropping father. Additional recommendations for those who have enjoyed this story include The 39 Clues series (various authors) as well as the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Meghan

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