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

Working at the Reisterstown Branch has helped to appease Rachael's rapacious/voracious/capacious appetite for reading material. Still, she inevitably ends up combing through reviews and author's websites in search of the next great read. She indulges her domestic side with craft and cooking books, soothes her emotional side with love stories, and sharpens her intellectual side with narrative nonfiction about science, technology, history, and various social issues. And for balance she scours the latest picture books for kooky and endearing stories with amazing illustrations. In the five minutes of her day not spent working reading or sleeping, Rachael enjoys baking, knitting, geeking out online, and singing show tunes.

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In the Wave's Wake

posted by: March 28, 2013 - 7:03am

Facing the WaveCars on top of boats on top of roofs. Mountains of debris in flattened urban landscapes. Sea-salty inland lakes miles away from the Pacific coastline. These were all fairly common scenes after the March 11, 2011 earthquake off of the northern coast of Japan caused a series of massive tsunami waves that decimated the eastern coast of the Tohoku region. Only months after the disaster first struck, Gretel Ehrlich, an American travel writer, came to personally view, experience, and record the wreckage and the perseverance of the people and places impacted most by the quake and tsunami. Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami is the insightful, poetic, personal chronicle of her expedition.


After she arrives, Ehrlich makes her way slowly up and down the devastated coastline, stopping by villages, cities, temples, and emergency shelters along the way. She comes to see the depth and variety of responses to the catastrophe in the people she meets and those she travels with, especially her drivers and translators, and their families. Through her conversations, the reader gradually realizes how profoundly Japan’s long acquaintance with the tsunami as a natural phenomenon has permeated its culture and worldview. Impermance, uncertainty, and acceptance of what cannot change are rooted in the Japanese character that Ehrlich’s portrayal reveals. Still, moments of happiness and joy punch through the sorrow and anxiety that the author and those she meets experience. 


Wrenching, inspiring, and compelling, Facing the Wave is an emotional reminder that even though we may no longer see it mentioned on the nightly news, the aftermath of a disaster of this scale lingers for those who lived through it and those who care enough to remember.



Time, the Final Frontier

posted by: March 11, 2013 - 8:10am

Man in the Empty SuitIf you had the chance to change an event in your life, would you? What if that change meant uncertainty, loneliness, and possibly death? The time traveler in Sean Ferrell’s new novel, Man in the Empty Suit, becomes intimately acquainted with the chaotic, frightening, and liberating repercussions of seizing your destiny and altering your fate.


Ever since he discovered his ability, the time traveler has been jaunting along in time with no discernible mission other than exploring the ages for his own amusement. The only true continuity in his life comes from the party he attends each year on his birthday, where he mingles with all his other selves from other years. There is the Inventor, who first travels through time and initially sets up the party, the other Youngsters, who are younger than his current self, and the Elders, who are older and more knowing. He is surrounded by himself, and each year the party progresses in exactly the same way with each version playing the same role and saying the same lines as before to avoid breaking continuity with each other and altering the proscribed timeline. But the year he turns 39, events do not proceed as usual. Due to a single missed action, versions start ending up dead, memories the Elders have are disconnected from the current reality, and a mysterious woman named Lily appears at the party for the first time. It is the time traveler’s job to set things right, but will he choose to return events to their original path or to forge a new destiny for himself?


This gripping, surreal story is full of emotional tension and psychological drama. Fans of time travel fiction, science fiction, and Stephen King’s 11/22/63 will find this unusual and offbeat novel a compelling and thought-provoking read.



Touched by the Bizarre

posted by: February 22, 2013 - 7:01am

The Miniature Wife and Other StoriesHow do you think you would respond in the face of something truly strange?  With horror? With amusement? With speed, by running as fast as possible in the other direction? Or would you adapt, until what once was so strange is now just a new way of being?  In his collection of wonderfully imaginative short stories, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, Manuel Gonzales and his very human characters take the latter course, exploring the incredible malleability of the human psyche. 


In tales ranging from just a few pages to nearly thirty, bizarre, often frightening, and occasionally gruesome events and people make appearances. A musical genius is physically crippled by his gift to the point that he must develop a way to speak through his ears to communicate. A zombie adept at hiding from discovery convinces himself to give into his homicidal urges because of a secret workplace crush. And in the title story, a scientist accidentally miniaturizes his wife and must then deal with the increasingly violent consequences to his marriage and his life. Often mysteries are unearthed, but never completely explained. Gonzales focuses on the internal dialogues of his characters, who respond to the weirdness around them with painfully human emotions and according to familiar--often petty and selfish--motivations.


At times tender, disturbing, amusing, and eerie, The Miniature Wife is perfect for cold, wild, stormy nights filled with hints of thunder and an air of possibility. Fans of gothic literature, the paranormal, and the short story format will devour this compilation of oddities and enigmas.




The Joy of X

posted by: February 7, 2013 - 7:01am

The Joy of XDo you find it difficult to remember how to solve a differential equation? Do probabilities and statistics drive you up the wall? Is your six year-old’s math homework giving you fits? If so, you may enjoy The Joy of X: a Guided Tour of Math, From One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz, a sophisticated and lighthearted refresher of some of the most basic and some of the most cutting edge mathematical concepts to ever grace our minds (or our bookshelf). 


Strogatz starts with the easy stuff—addition, subtraction, the number line—and progressively moves on to more abstract and advanced subjects, like calculus, group theory, and analytics. Using diagrams, literary allusions, and Sesame Street, Strogatz draws you into each topic and before you know it the rather short chapter is over. Presto! You’ve learned something. While this is by no means a comprehensive picture of mathematics, Strogatz simultaneously enlightens and entertains with each successively more challenging chapter. Like a magician willing to share a few choice trade secrets, Strogatz invites us to peek behind the curtain and uncover the mysteries of long forgotten concepts, such as quadratic equations, infinity, and the elusive prime numbers.


The chapters, many of which have been adapted from Strogatz’s New York Times column "The Elements of Math", are brief, accessible, and threaded with his enthusiasm for the topic at hand. This is a fascinating, quick, and approachable read for anyone who would like a math reboot, including parents, the curious, and those interested in discovering what sine waves have to do with Romeo and Juliet’s love life.


You Are What You Eat With

posted by: December 20, 2012 - 8:15am

Consider the ForkWhat do frying pans, spit-jacks, and molecular gastronomy have in common? They are all kitchen technologies that have affected how humans accomplish the very basic task of feeding themselves. Some are ancient, like the wooden spoon, which has been around for thousands of years. Some are complex, like the SousVide SVK-00001 Supreme Water Oven, which can hold a vacuum-sealed package of chicken breast at a constant temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat becomes succulent, juicy, and somehow safe enough to eat. And some, like the basic cooking pot, are more influential than others. They all have a place in Bee Wilson’s insightful and entertaining new history, Consider the Fork: A history of how we cook and eat


In a work that spans time from before the development of agriculture through today’s high-tech kitchen gadgetry, it is impossible to be comprehensive. Wilson, instead, focuses on certain culinary implements that have had an impact on what we eat and how we go about preparing to eat it. Each chapter explores a different kitchen tool or concept, with charming hand-drawn illustrations of the various equipment sprinkled throughout the text. Wilson also includes short spotlights on particularly useful, unique, and interesting examples of kitchen technology that punctuate the end of the every chapter. 


Witty and filled with wonderful obscure facts about famous and long-forgotten kitchen equipment, Consider the Fork is perfect for anyone who has ever looked in their kitchen drawers and wondered, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Food history enthusiasts and fans of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A world history will devour this delightful read.



An Everyday Obsession

posted by: December 3, 2012 - 8:15am

The Dangers of Proximal AlphabetsTo the average observer, Ida, Jackson, and James are ordinary childhood friends. They imagine fantasylands, have sleepovers, and run amok outdoors, all in each other’s company. But they don’t stay children forever. In The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, Kathleen Alcott exposes the obsessions, insecurities, and weaknesses of the trio as they grow from closely enmeshed friends into troubled and estranged adults. 


Told from Ida’s point of view, much of the story focuses on Ida and Jackson, or I and J, as they call each other. From their earliest meeting Ida sees Jackson as uniquely hers, and Alcott’s simple and poetic prose unveils the seeds of Ida’s disquietingly intimate obsession with him. As an infant she cried when she was first separated from him, as a child she listens to his eerie sleep-talking conversations with James, and as an adult she proudly catalogues for the reader some of his most personal idiosyncrasies. James, Jackson’s younger brother, is slowly marginalized within the friendship into a mere witness to Ida and Jackson’s growing closeness. As they age, Ida and Jackson gradually become a couple and James drifts into mental illness. Jackson’s boyhood sleep-talking has transformed into more disturbing sleep-walking, and Ida’s response to his unconscious actions threatens to unhinge their strangely dysfunctional relationship.


Although quite short, this novel is packed with subtle emotions and extremely human relationships. The characters are all eccentric in one way or another, yet they seem so normal when viewed through Ida’s eyes. Part coming-of-age story and part psychological drama, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a thought-provoking and bittersweet read perfect for a cold fall night.




Make it Happen

posted by: November 23, 2012 - 7:01am

MakersIt used to be really difficult to make things. First, you had a great idea. Then you had to design it, build a prototype, and get a company to buy it. That company would then take your idea, send it through committees, change it to be mass manufacturable, and finally (maybe years later) sell it to the public. By the time your great idea goes through all that, it might not be so great anymore. But with twenty-first century technology, there is a better way. In his book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine envisions faster, cheaper, more open, and more individualized ways to make products that can be sold to a global audience. 


Say you want to make an innovative watch using your own design. Nowadays you can buy desktop manufacturing equipment and make the parts in your garage. Or you can post your idea on a website and have people from around the world fund your production costs by preordering the final product. Or you can collaborate with other inventors online to collectively transform your idea into a tangible object. According to Anderson, the people who use this more hands-on personal approach to manufacturing, called Makers, are gaining momentum as a new force in the global marketplace. He advocates the Maker movement as a way for America to reestablish itself as a manufacturing hub through a million individuals and small businesses creating products using the Maker mindset and selling them worldwide. In a book that is as much manual as manifesto, Anderson provides insider tips on how to get started making your own ideas into reality. A Maker-turned-businessman himself, Anderson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. Tinkerers, creative souls, and budding entrepreneurs will be itching to start making after finishing this inspiring read.


Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit

posted by: November 1, 2012 - 7:03am


The Mansion of HappinessAnyone who has ever played Milton Bradley's The Game of Life knows that, whether you are winning or losing, players inexorably move in one direction. Fresh faced college graduates turn into employees who become parents and eventually, if all goes well, age gracefully into retirement. But real life doesn't really end (or start) that way.  Jill Lepore, Pultizer Prize finalist and frequent essayist for The New Yorker, challenges our understanding of the origins and rules of the modern game of life in her recent book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death


Lepore uses Bradley's game and its antecedents (one which carries the name of the book) to frame her humorous and often biting discourse on such disparate topics as abortion, cryogenics, time management, and children's libraries. Each chapter explores an aspect of a different stage of life, starting with before birth and ending after death along with nearly everything in between. In every section, Lepore features an eccentric, influential, and often morally ambiguous cast of characters who have all shaped how we view our lives and our society.  She draws these wide-ranging people and subjects into a fluid and accessible narrative that is, though not historically comprehensive, certainly thought provoking and resonant for a modern audience. And for those who are especially inquisitive Lepore provides a wealth of footnotes and a well-developed index, which the more casual reader can safely avoid. Like many of the best histories, The Mansion of Happiness uncovers insights into our twenty-first century lives in the decisions, coincidences, and consequences of the past. Fans of American history and the intellectually curious will both be satisfied with this engaging and compelling journey through the game of life. 


The Blue Dream of Sky

posted by: October 12, 2012 - 8:45am

A Once Crowded SkyWhat is the difference between a hero and a villain? How does a superhero know that he is doing good? What happens if there are no villains to fight anymore?  If superheroes lose their powers, what do they have to live for? Tom King, in his debut novel A Once Crowded Sky, takes a fresh look at these questions and turns traditional comic book superhero tropes inside out.


PenUltimate, former sidekick of the great superhero Ultimate, is the last hero standing after the rest of the world’s superheroes sacrifice their powers to stop the mysterious world-destroying force of the Blue. Considered a coward for refusing to relinquish his powers in the battle that Ultimate gave his life to win, Pen is an outcast among the newly powerless heroes. But soon a new threat arises and Pen is the only one who can face it.  Will he meet the challenge this time? Can he defeat this new threat? Will Pen sacrifice himself to restore the other superheroes’ powers? Has Ultimate returned from the Blue? Will the world, in usual comic book fashion, return to normal by the final page?


King deftly creates a world of superheroes and villains that are also real people, with deep emotional lives who may not always do the right thing or have all the answers. Yet he also maintains and meddles with typical superhero themes, like the hero’s sacrifice for the greater good, the interconnectedness of the hero and the villain, and the eventual return of the hero, no matter what. Peppered with illustrations by comic book artist Tom Fowler and imaginatively written, A Once Crowded Sky is a great pick for readers who enjoy edgy comic books and superhero movies like Watchmen and The Dark Knight.



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