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Randalee Gross

Randalee has a flare for adventure in life and literature. After traveling around the world she has recently settled in Baltimore to explore all the city has to offer. Having received an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and a Master's degree in Library Science from Emporia State University she is excited to utilize her experiences at Baltimore County Public Library. She loves discussing literature from OK! magazine to Crime and Punishment though her favorite genres are teen fiction, general fiction, mystery, suspense, and science fiction. Her favorite work perks are reading to children and talking books with patrons and coworkers. After work she spends her time at the gym, playing pool, watching movies and reading of course. 

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Walk Between Two Worlds

Cover art for Afterworlds"Distinctive" is the word I would use to describe Scott Westerfeld’s previous books, and his latest young adult novel Afterworlds is no different. With alternating chapters and the combination of two genres, Afterworlds is a unique work of fiction.

 

As the book opens, Darcy has graduated high school and deferred college to pursue a writing career in New York. She has sold her debut novel and signs a book deal for $300,000. As an 18-year-old girl in New York City, Darcy is exploring what it means to be an independent adult, discovering her own sexuality and learning the art of book publishing.

 

In the alternate chapters, we see how Darcy’s life affects her writing. Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, is caught in a terrorist attack. The trauma forces her into the Afterworld – the place where people go when they die. While there, she meets a captivating young man who helps her evade the terrorists and return from the Afterworld unharmed. It’s after this traumatizing event that Lizzie finds she is able to walk in two worlds and is blessed and cursed with a macabre gift that she can’t just give back.  

 

Half of this book is realistic fiction and coming of age story about an emerging writer. The other half is a paranormal romance. At times Afterworlds is similar to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; other times it can be likened to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This is a peculiar combination that mixes surprisingly well.
 

Randalee

 
 

A Splash of Mysticism

A Splash of Mysticism

posted by:
September 5, 2014 - 7:55am

Cover art for Season of the DragonfliesWhile living in Borneo in the 1920s, Serena Lenore discovers a rare flower and cultivates it until she returns to the United States, where she turns one flower into an empire. Serena grafted the flower until she had acres upon acres of the unique white bloom. From these exceptional blossoms, she created a perfume with the ability to change the fortunes of the women wearing it. The perfume became a widely kept secret and Lenore Incorporated grew (by word of mouth) into a legacy that Serena could pass on to her daughters.

 

Three generations later, the business is still booming and Willow, Serena’s granddaughter, is ready to retire from the family business. First she must select a successor. The obvious choice is her daughter Mya, who has lived on the farm all her life learning the ways of the business. When her estranged daughter Lucia returns home, Willow realizes she has a tough decision to make.

 

Season of the Dragonflies is Sarah Creech’s debut novel, but as a professor of English and Creative Writing, this isn’t her first experience as a writer. Creech uses her Blue Ridge Mountain background as a foundation for her book, creating carefully depicted images of rural Virginia and working in stories she heard as a child. The characters’ relationships are at times strained, but in the end comforting and relatable despite the novel’s fantasy aspects.

Randalee

 
 

Hazed and Confused

Hazed and Confused

posted by:
August 22, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Brutal YouthAnthony Breznican, senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly, is trying his hand at fiction writing with his debut novel Brutal Youth. This omniscient view of a parochial high school demonstrates how vicious adolescence can be, and what lengths people will go to hide their secrets.

 

In a parochial school where sins are so pervasive that they fill the halls, the students just try to make it through the day while administrators work to save the school for another year. On Davidek and Stein’s introductory visit to St. Michael's, the halls are so full of tension that a student snaps and begins throwing objects at other students while fortified on the roof. It’s Davidek and Stein’s quick thinking that allows them to save a fallen student and, due to their efforts, they’re bonded in friendship.

 

Despite their abysmal first impression of the school, both students find themselves enrolled for their freshman year. The novel follows their first year of high school from freshman hazing to dysfunctional families and even relationship woes. An omniscient narrator is able to show how anxieties trickle down in the school from administrative setbacks to pressure on teachers who let off steam by cracking down on students who then turn on the freshmen.

 

This bold debut takes an interesting look at a subject that’s all too relevant in today’s society where bullying runs rampant. The setting of a parochial school is a thought provoking choice as well because expectations are different for public school versus religious establishments. However, the reader will quickly discover there’s not a whole lot of difference other than the dress code and course offerings.

Randalee

 
 

Between the Covers with Dan Fesperman

UnmannedLocal award-winning author and BCPL card holder Dan Fesperman has come out with a new thriller available on August 12, and gave Between the Covers the inside scoop. In his latest psychological military thriller Unmanned, Fesperman explores the domain of drone warfare.

 

Darwin Cole served his country as an accomplished pilot until he was sequestered to operate drones. As a pilot Cole found himself slightly removed from the tangible repercussions of war and was surprised to learn that the opposite is true with manning a drone. It’s this aspect that tears him apart when a crucial mission goes amiss and innocent people die, but who can be blamed for the error when the truth is camouflaged? Cole teams up with unlikely allies to find out what actually happened on that infamous day.

 

Read on to find out more about Dan Fesperman and his latest novel. 

 

Between the Covers: Drone technology plays a major role in Unmanned. I imagine you did a lot of research on the subject. How much of what is in the book is the military actually using? What is your personal opinion about how drones are used by the military?

Dan Fesperman: Well, all of the military drones I mention – Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk – they’re out there and flying. As for the experimental drones that pop up later in the book – the ones the size of insects, flying in swarms; the ultra-fast models; the ones with huge wingspans – I do know that drones like those have been tested by the military. If anything, I’ve probably underestimated their capabilities, if only because the technology is advancing at such a dizzying rate. I don’t object, per se, to the use of drones in warfare. Hey, in some cases they actually reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, and there’s no doubt that their reconnaissance capabilities have saved plenty of soldiers’ lives. But it does make me a little queasy to think that we might be embracing certain applications of drone technology without fully thinking them through, which is always a dangerous proposition. Also, the more that you turn combat into a remote-control exercise, the more you tend to dehumanize it, for both predator and prey.

 

BTC: There is a large focus on the military and government agencies; did you work with any military personnel for authenticity?

DF: I interviewed several Air Force pilots, sensors and other officers associated with drone squadrons out at Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. One pilot-sensor team was particularly helpful, especially in describing what an eerie job it could be, peering down at a small village for hours and even days on end, and then, possibly, having to target one of the houses. They established a degree of intimacy and familiarity with these places which soldiers almost never do. It personalized their potential targets even as the technological nature of the relationship – they were 7,000 miles and nine time zones apart! – made the relationship oddly impersonal. As for the intelligence side, I’ve talked with plenty of ex-CIA people in the course of my research for other projects, so I already had a feel for the way those jobs work.

 

BTC: Cole and Barbara are struggling with some of the things they saw while working in war-torn countries. Did your own travels in similar situations prompt you to include this aspect in the novel?Dan Fesperman

DF: Yes. Those kinds of places – Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Middle East – always leave you with vivid and sometimes haunting memories. They pop up later in your dreams, and at unexpected moments. And while I’ve never experienced anything quite as traumatic as what Barb endured, I got enough of a taste of it, as did many of my colleagues, to be able to write about it with some authenticity.

 

BTC: You picked Maryland as the setting for a large portion of the book. Is this because you reside in Maryland or because of its proximity to D.C.?

DF: Both, really. And it was fun, for a change, to write from a few settings on my home turf. In writing and researching my other books, I’d often worked hard to establish enough comfort with a foreign setting to be able to write about it with any authority. In the Baltimore and Maryland scenes, that came easier.

 

BTC: Was it a difficult transition to go from journalist to novelist?

DF: Not really. The hardest part was getting used to the idea that you’re in command of this world you’ve created, instead of being chained to the “facts” gleaned from interviews and observations. You have to grow accustomed to the idea of that, instead of checking and double-checking your notebook. You can control even the smallest of details. If you’re setting your book in an actual time and place you still want to be true to the spirit of that time and place, but the characters belong to you. In journalism it never works that way.

 

BTC: Several of your books are award winners in the area of crime writing and thrillers. Have you ever considered writing in a different genre?

DF: The bounds of those genres have been stretched so far and wide by now that I’ve never felt the least bit restricted or confined. You can pretty much write about any era, in any location, with any assortment of characters. And when you get right down to it, genre or non-genre, any fiction is going to concern itself mostly with conflict and personality, identity and betrayal. My only rule of thumb is to try and write the kind of book that I’d like to read.

 

BTC:  What book would you recommend to a reader who just finished Unmanned and loved it?

DF: Odd as it might sound, the first work of a kindred spirit that comes to mind is a wonderful German film from 2006, The Lives of Others. Essentially it’s a spy film about an extended and careful surveillance of a single suspect, but what it’s really about is how that sort of invasive and prying work affects those who do it for a living. It’s beautifully and artfully crafted, with some brilliant writing. Of my own books, I’d recommend The Warlord’s Son, mostly because its setting in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region gives you a much more intimate look at the insular little worlds that all those drone pilots can only watch from afar.

Randalee

 
 

A Charmed Encounter

Cover art for The Fire WishFormer intelligence officer Amber Lough is trying her hand as an author of young adult fantasy with The Fire Wish. The backdrop for this book is the Middle East in a time full of mysticism and intrigue. The humans live in and around Baghdad while the jinni population inhabits a sprawling underground cavern.

 

The chapters of this novel alternate between two 16-year-old girls, Zayele and Najwa. Zayele’s father arranged for her to marry Kamal and become a princess of Baghdad, but the prospect of living this sheltered existence seems stifling to her free-spirited tendencies. In what seems like another world, Najwa is weighed down with responsibility and, while she is ready to rise to the occasion, she finds her abilities suppressed by the elders in her community. Both girls are caught in a war between the jinni and the humans. When the desperate Zayele makes an impulsive wish, it forever alters both of their lives and connects them in ways they never thought possible.

 

The Fire Wish is the first installment of Lough’s new series, and this dual perspective, fast paced fantasy contains everything from action and adventure to romance. Fans of Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King will surely find this book just as magical.

Randalee

 
 

From Novel to TV

Fresh Off the BoatComing soon to the ABC network is a memoir turned television series, Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang. In his memoir, Huang describes how his immigrant family moves from D.C. to Florida so that his father can open his own restaurant. Huang goes on to describe what life was like growing up as a Taiwanese-Chinese-American, not just in the United States, but also in a community with little diversity.

 

The audiobook for this memoir is narrated by Eddie Huang, which gives the reader a greater understanding of his perspective. His direct manner of detailing his eclectic array of experiences is uncensored and sincere. Culture is a prevalent theme throughout the book and food is frequently a platform for Huang to discuss the topic.

 

After listening to the audiobook, I will be interested to see how Huang’s book translates into an ABC series that appears to be quite comical. While the book isn’t without humor, it seems to focus more on challenging what are considered to be cultural norms and showing the impact that assimilation can have on a boy and his family as a whole. If you find yourself a fan of Huang’s style, checkout his video series on vice.com.

Randalee

 
 

The Sweet Life Isn’t Easy

The Sweet Life Isn’t Easy

posted by:
June 26, 2014 - 7:00am

Queen SugarNatalie Baszile tackles several tough topics in her novel Queen Sugar. Protagonist Charley, a single mother, has to create a whole new life for herself as a black woman in rural Louisiana. She has to deal with the loss of loved ones, confront prejudice and raise a strong, proud daughter. It is only with the help of her grandmother, Miss Honey, that she is even able to attempt this new beginning.

 

After Charley’s father passed away, she was surprised to learn that he had left her a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. She’d always considered herself a city girl from California, but it had been four years since her husband passed away, and she and her 11-year-old daughter Micah were in need of a change.

 

When Charley and Micah arrive in Louisiana, they realized that the plantation manager had given up long ago and the fields were in dire need of a green thumb. Feeling overwhelmed, Charley immediately begins to try to turn things around. She had moved Micah against her will and sunk all of her savings into a long shot at a new life, but Charley quickly learns that this new life doesn’t come with the promise of simplicity. More than one curve ball is thrown her way, but Charley is determined to make her father proud and show Micah that perseverance is the key to reaching a goal.

 

Baszile creates rich characters whose relationships feel warm and authentic. It’s the combination of these character interactions and the vivid descriptions of the landscape that bring this book alive. Though the novel is more contemporary in content, I would recommend it to those who liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Randalee

 
 

Night and Day

Night and Day

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

Plus OneIn 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic had such a profoundly devastating impact that drastic measures had to be taken to stem the infection, Elizabeth Fama’s new young adult novel Plus One covers this period in history. To keep up with the additional demands brought on by the pandemic, many more medical professionals were brought in and worked in shifts divided by night and day. This dual system worked so well in the medical field that it was integrated into other industries and finally the government.

 

Though the system was first designed with equality in mind, over time things changed. Day became the sought after curfew, offering better jobs and more economic advantages. Sol wanted nothing more than for her grandfather to see his first grand baby, but with her brother being day and she and her grandfather being night, the task was almost insurmountable.

 

Sol had almost no plan when she set out on her mission, so it was no surprise that an adventure ensues. This young adult novel follows Sol as she is betrayed by someone she’s supposed to love, loves someone she’s expected to hate and finds strength in unlikely places. Fama creates a fast-paced and compelling story with compassionate characters and an unexpected ending. Fans of the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth should check out this standalone dystopian novel.

Randalee

 
 

Homage to Earth Day

Homage to Earth Day

posted by:
April 22, 2014 - 8:00am

Green Living Can Be DeadlyIn honor of Earth Day, Green Living Can Be Deadly, the second installment in Staci McLaughlin’s Blossom Valley mysteries, is a cozy mystery that sparks the spirit of the day. While the books can be read as a set, they can be standalone reads as well. In McLaughlin’s series, Dana has returned to her hometown to live with her mother and boy-crazed sister after the death of her father.

 

Upon returning to Blossom Valley, Dana takes on a job with O’Connell’s Organic Farm and Spa, doing everything from feeding pigs to marketing and even investigating murders in her spare time. While manning the booth at the Green Living Festival, Dana runs into Wendy, a high school classmate and friend whom she hasn’t seen in years. Within hours of their renewed friendship, Dana comes upon Wendy’s blood-covered dead body in the neighboring stall. It’s after learning that Wendy doesn’t have many family members or friends that Dana decides to put her amateur sleuthing to good use, much to the chagrin of detective Palmer.

 

On account of Dana’s off-beat wit, unique way of looking at things and her wayward detective skills, this book is an amusing and easy read. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, though, I will say that this book gives you all the clues you need to solve the mystery yourself. McLaughlin even includes Dana’s blog posts for those who may want some holistic living tips and tricks.

Randalee

 
 

Where Memories Can Be Deceiving

ACID by Emma PassIn Emma Pass' debut novel, ACID, the year is 2113 and the U.K. has been taken over by the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense, or ACID. The agency has imposed strict laws that prohibit alcohol and smoking while enforcing a curfew and arranging life partners for people when they turn 17. The population is divided by job status and salary, and ACID has created a tangible barrier between the classes.

 

Jenna Strong lived a privileged life until, at 15, an accident took her parents and forever changed her life. She was found responsible for the death of her parents and sentenced to life in a co-ed prison for adults where she had to learn to take care of herself. With the help of the prison doctor, Alex Fisher, she learned martial arts and began to take control of her fate.

 

Alex conspired with an organization to break Jenna out of jail, but he was killed in the process, leaving Jenna with a sense of guilt and a debt to be paid. After being rescued, Jenna’s appearance is transformed, and she learns that her memories had been altered by ACID. With her freedom restored, Jenna decides to take her life back and pay off old debts along the way.

 

This young adult, dystopian novel is Emma Pass’ first book and has only recently become available in the U.S. Pass has already earned her accolades in the U.K. with her intricately created and fast-paced thriller.

Randalee