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

Tom is a librarian at the Catonsville branch, and he enjoys reading collections of short stories and essays. In his free time, he loves playing video games with his girlfriend and three cats, practicing coffee wizardry, and getting more tattoos.

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Sword Art Online: Girls' Ops

Sword Art Online: Girls' OpsWriter Reki Kawahara and designer abec have experienced unbridled success in the past half-decade with their original series Sword Art Online. In 2009, the first SAO light novel about virtual reality video games with real-life implications was released. The novel has since been expanded to 15 volumes and has spawned two seasons worth of anime, three PlayStation games, a handful of mobile games and eight manga adaptations. The most recent manga book to arrive stateside is Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, and it’s just as fun and endearing as the original SAO. It’s definitely cuter, too.

 

In SAO:GO, series favorites Suguha, Rika and Keiko are coping pretty well with the aftermath of the Aincrad tragedy, and are still just as hopelessly addicted to online gaming as ever. The trio play the new VRMMO Alfheim Online religiously, and are ecstatic to find a new add-on quest has arrived after a long day at the SAO returnees school. Dubbed “the Angel’s Whisper Rings,” the adventure has the young ladies aiding an angel in strife while proving their devotion to one another to earn powerful rings of friendship.

 

The three dive into Alfeim Online ready to take on the new high-level quest as their avatars Leafa, Silica and Lisbeth, using their previous experience with the angel in SAO as a starting point. On their way to find her, the trio encounters a familiar dual-wielding swordsman clad in a midnight-black coat. Fans of the series will know it’s fate that unites the girls with this swordsman, but will never foresee the impending twist that makes SAO:GO an enjoyable departure from the previous SAO adventures.

 

SAO:GO is a quirky, adorable spinoff of the Japanese megahit Sword Art Online. Readers who have enjoyed SAO arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance and Progressive will find so much to love about Girls’ Ops. Gamers and anime fans alike should also check this out.

Tom

 
 

The Job

The Job

posted by:
August 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Job by Steve OsborneRetired New York City police officer Steve Osborne has a swell of stories to tell, and his debut The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop collects his written and oral tales featured in the popular NPR live program “The Moth.” After standing in at a show that was missing an act, Osborne’s penchant for chronicling his adventures on the beat in New York City’s ninth precinct landed him a nationwide storytelling tour and convinced him to keep writing in his spare time.

 

The Job contains heartfelt, easy-to-read stories with a great balance of action, humor and drama. In “Hot Dog,” Osborne recalls running into a repeat drug offender a few years after the man was released from Riker’s Island. “Midnights” details some of the worst possible calls a cop working the graveyard shift could receive — all of which flood Osborne’s precinct in one night. A woman reports a rape case and Osborne’s unit confronts the oddball assailant before he skips town in “Stockbroker.” Osborne reflects on the first time he had to face a mother and inform her of the death of her child in “Growing Pains.”

 

After taking in the stories collected in The Job, readers will get a great sense of the kind of cop Osborne was and the kind of guy he is now. His no-nonsense sincerity shines throughout his recollections, and he never shies away from portraying himself, his police allies or their suspects honestly. Osborne’s world views have been shaped by the survival tactics he had to employ every shift he worked, and the stories he shares are evident of the toll he has paid.

Tom

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Make Something Up

Make Something Up

posted by:
August 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Make Something UpMake Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread collects shock-fiction author Chuck Palahniuk’s stories written from the conception of his first book Fight Club up through his latest novel Beautiful You. With a sequel to Fight Club making its run as a monthly comic book right now, it’s the perfect time for these stories to bubble to the surface and explode in a mess of bilious, sticky grossness that you will never be able to bleach from your conscience.

 

Palahniuk claims to have lost count after making over 200 audience members faint during live readings of his story “Guts,” and the tales in Make Something Up have been let from the same vein. “The Toad Prince” deserves immediate mention — a young man becomes fascinated with STDs so he decides to collect them by tracking down prostitutes and swabbing their unmentionables. He cultures the samples in petri dishes in his room, and what he does with those samples... let’s just say the growth is unexpectedly potent. There’s a trio of stories in which personified animals work menial jobs and disappoint their lovers while their offspring huff glue on recess playgrounds; Aesop would weep. A pony-loving farm girl tricks her father into purchasing a horse she and her friends found in a viral video in “Red Sultan’s Big Boy.” Fight Club hero Tyler Durden turns up in “Expedition” to shepherd a man in denial down the dark path through his subconscious to a place we do not talk about.

 

The longer stories in Make Something Up feel like condensed versions of Palanhiuk’s earlier novels, with unforgettable plots and enough gory detail to turn you shades of green. Reading his shorter stories is like taking a rib-breaking Epinephrine shot straight to the heart and feeling the surge race through your veins to your vital organs, working them double-time. Readers who have enjoyed any of Palanhiuk’s books should definitely check out Make Something Up.

Tom

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Binary Star

Binary Star

posted by:
August 4, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Binary Star by Sarah GerardSarah Gerard’s unnamed narrator in Binary Star is channeled from a place most of us will never visit in our lifetimes. It’s a wonder that Gerard is capable of emerging from this place only to return again for the sake of siphoning creative energies, and her trial blurs the story in Binary Star into an unsettling reality.

 

The nameless protagonist in Binary Star is a young woman studying astronomy at Adelphi University in New York. She is anorexic and bulimic. Her boyfriend John lives in Chicago and is an alcoholic and an abuser of prescribed medication. The narrator is at a point in her life where she feels completely directionless. Though she’s intelligent enough to realize the cause of her misery is her failing health — she weighs just a hair over 90 pounds — she refuses to break the cycle she’s trapped in. John denies his condition with boisterous, masculine assertions, often leading to broken bones and bruised egos. Together, the two are a pathetic spectacle — but at least they’re something.

 

Gerard illustrates in Binary Star that sometimes people need each other in order to exist. Splashes of science parallel this tumultuous relationship:

 

A binary star is a system containing two stars that orbit their common center of mass. The relative brightness of stars in a binary system is important. Glare from a bright star can make detecting a fainter companion difficult.

 

They embark on a road trip with no real destination, which necessitates visits with old acquaintances and frequent stops at convenience stores. Through vegan literature collected during their journey, the couple becomes devoted to anarchy-fueled ecoterrorism. Will this new cause balance their orbit, or cause them to violently burn out?

 

Readers who enjoyed the classic anonymously written and narrated novel Go Ask Alice will find a lot of similarities in Binary Star. For more literary work on the topic of eating disorders, readers should look for How to Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood.

Tom

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Gutshot

Gutshot

posted by:
July 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Gutshot by Amelia GrayMost of Amelia Gray’s stories in Gutshot are unusually short — two or three pages each — which makes their power to shock and awe feel overwhelming. Each story begins with a harbinger sentence informing character or setting and descends into chaos, with all kinds of taboos roiling around between the beautifully adorned covers.

 

Grindhouse-level ultraviolence comprises the stories “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover” and “The Moment of Conception.” In “Date Night,” couples out for a good time flay one another to get to the person within. Different perceptions of love and adoration are absolutely ruined in “House Proud,” “The Swan as a Metaphor for Love” and “How He Felt.” “The Lives of Ghosts” portrays the departed returning to life in the form of grisly bruises and boils on those who miss them most. There’s provocative defilement in “Monument” and “Legacy,” and perverse detainment in “Western Passage.” In “House Heart,” a couple confines a girl to the ventilation system of their house and listen to her shimmy around...as foreplay.

 

Disgusting as this may sound, Gutshot is a tiny grimoire of genius brimming with macabre and hilarious imaginings. For every derisive snort elicited, there’s an equine chortle that’ll render readers suddenly cognizant of their wide-eyed, shell-shocked states. In the right light, stories like “Thank You” and “Go for It and Raise Hell” and “Gutshot” can feel like palate cleansers, reminding readers that it’s all for fun and nobody actually got dismembered at a fancy restaurant. 

Tom

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I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son

Cover art for I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid SonKent Russell is a 29-year-old dude and writer of articles and essays featured in prominent journals like n+1, Harper’s Magazine and GQ. His debut collection I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son unites his recent works under the banner of American masculinity. Russell profiles eclectic men who are pioneers and preservers of the notions of manliness, and also his father, a bygone beacon of swagger in the traditional sense of the word.

 

Towards the beginning of his collection, Russell remarks "I have come to fetishize opaque brutes. Adventurers, gunfighters, all the dumb rollicking killers. Dudes for whom torment and doubt are inconceivable (or at least incommunicable)." From there, he chronicles his friend’s desperate enlistment and subsequent deployment to Afghanistan; a man’s obsession with the world’s deadliest snake venoms and his agonizing process of self-immunization; a retired minor-league hockey player’s struggle to remain relevant as a ritualistic fighter on the ice; and a man’s willing exile from the first world despite an innate unwillingness to break his dependency on socialization. Woven between these essays are highly personal conversations between Russell and his father — ties of cohesion that bind the collection of essays into a book.

 

Feeling the burdens of expectation and vicarious pride, Kent Russell does what many slightly aimless, highly gifted intellectuals do: he curls further into himself. The essays in I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son are glimpses of what he sees inside while recoiling from his tirading father, or from a Black Mamba nipping at his shin, or from a bag of trash flung at him by a roving band of overweight juveniles clad in black-and-white clown makeup. Kent Russell is the brother of Karen Russell, author of the novel Swamplandia! and short story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Tom

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The Last Flight of Poxl West

Cover art for The Last Flight of Poxl WestDaniel Torday’s new novel The Last Flight of Poxl West is so meticulously researched and convincingly written, readers will believe they’ve found the second coming of Unbroken. Similar in theme, The Last Flight of Poxl West is the story of Leopold Weisberg, a.k.a Poxl West, a Czechoslovakian pilot who enlists in the Royal Air Force (RAF) to combat Nazis in the skies above Britain. Poxl’s story is told in portions of excerpts from his memoirs and from the present-day perspective of Eli Goldstein, Poxl’s young nephew who idolizes his uncle.

 

Poxl and Eli take frequent trips into town for ice cream sundaes. Over mounds of whipped cream topped with cherries and sprinkles, Poxl regales Eli with stories from a rough draft of a manuscript he’s working on, which would later become Skylock, his best-selling memoir. Eli treasures time with his uncle and is proud when Poxl’s book is released to critical acclaim, but he soon feels the sting of his uncle’s absence when Skylock flies Poxl to stardom.

 

Skylock is Poxl’s story of his life during World War II. He spent his teenage years watching his mother paint and his father tinker with a personal airplane, until pressure from the encroaching Reich and a familial disturbance cause him to flee to the Netherlands. The next few years of Poxl’s life are marred with love and loss and pockmarked from falling bombs. Remorse drives Poxl to enlist in the RAF and take to the skies, where he hopes to reciprocate the pain the Nazis have caused him.

 

In 250 words Poxl’s story sounds heroic, but what sets The Last Flight of Poxl West apart from other WWII stories or other memoirs of courage and victory is Poxl’s motivation. Depending on how readers perceive his actions, he could be a brave and selfless soldier, or he could be an obsessive and cowardly young man. It’s up to readers to decide which flight is actually Poxl’s last.

Tom

 
 

Turtleface and Beyond

Turtleface and Beyond

posted by:
June 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Turtleface and Beyond By Arthur BradfordDon’t judge this book by its simple cover; the stories contained within Arthur Bradford’s collection Turtleface and Beyond are highly original and situationally hilarious. Turtleface and Beyond features a series of stories starring Georgie, a hapless, lackadaisical fellow who seems to be a magnet for the bizarre.

 

In the titular "Turtleface," Georgie is canoeing down a lazy river with his friend Otto and their girlfriends, when Otto spies an imposing cliff and wants to leap from it. Against Georgie's advice, Otto scrambles up the mountainside and dives into the river below, where his face meets a meandering turtle. Georgie is racked with guilt not because of Otto's foolish accident, but because the turtle's shell is fissured.

 

"Lost Limbs" is the story of Georgie's unrequited interest in Lenore, a woman with a prosthetic arm. Lenore interprets Georgie’s lack of interest in her prosthesis as self-absorbed and ignoble, but poor Georgie didn’t even realize her arm was fake until their second date. Lenore breaks things off with Georgie, who is content with her decision until months later when he gets his leg caught in a wood chipper. As his calf is mangled in the machine, his first thought is, "Hm, I should call that lovely girl with the fake hand."

 

Georgie works the graveyard shift in an attorney’s library in "217-Pound Dog," where he meets Jim Tewilliger, a partner at the firm whose life is beginning to unravel. Sensing Georgie's kind nature, Jim asks him for help acquiring some marijuana. Georgie senses Jim is a man in need of a rare kind of help, so he acquiesces. Jim's behavior around the office becomes increasingly erratic, and Georgie, left vouching for him in a whirlwind of unfinished work and fast food wrappers, wonders what his acquaintance’s endgame entails.

 

Arthur Bradford’s imagination illuminates Georgie’s misadventures in Turtleface and Beyond, a collection genre lovers will find funny, laconic and clever. 

Tom

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Know Your Beholder

Know Your Beholder

posted by:
May 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Know Your BeholderThere are few tragedies capable of eliciting tears from a man in his early 30s. The death of a beloved pet, the dissolution of a marriage, maybe; or more realistically, the death of a beloved Xbox, the dissolution of a favorite band. In Adam Rapp’s Know Your Beholder, narrator and central character Francis Falbo bears his soul while marinating in his overlord’s bathrobe and cultivating his newly sprouted beard.

 

In snowy Pollard, Illinois, Francis Falbo’s rising indie rock band, The Third Policeman, feels the heat of rapid ascension and cinders into nothingness almost exactly as his wife Sheila Ann abandons him for another man. With nothing going for him other than a few new bristles encroaching on his face, he moves into the attic of his childhood home, which his father bequeathed to him before uprooting and fleeing to Florida after the death of his wife. Clad in a bathrobe and two pairs of thermal pajamas which eventually graft to his skin, Francis decides to become an amateur landlord and converts the spacious dwelling into a couple of apartments. He assembles a colorful cast of tenants, including a family of former circus performers looking to settle down, an ice-fishing enthusiast with an incredibly rotund stomach and his ex wife’s burnout brother.

 

Francis chronicles his woes day by day on an old typewriter and gradually realizes he has become agoraphobic, but he disguises his fear as a personality quirk as he accomplishes various landlording tasks like collecting rent and unclogging sinks. As winter passes, the Falbo house embraces the thaw and collectively hopes the spring will bring reprieve to their lives bereft of happiness.

 

Know Your Beholder is about overcoming heartbreak and is perfectly balanced, with the weight of tragedy elevating wry and witty humor laced with culturally relevant references to the indie music, art and literary scenes. 

Tom

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Reunion

Reunion

posted by:
May 18, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Reunion by Hannah Pittard

When a novel depicts a brief period of time, the pacing becomes just as crucial as the plot and the characters of the story. Hannah Pittard’s new novel Reunion takes place in the mourning period between a death and subsequent viewing. During those emotional few days, readers witness genuine exchanges between siblings who revert to old tendencies as soon as they’re in the same room together.

 

En route to Chicago via plane, Kate Pulaski checks her phone and discovers her estranged father Stan has killed himself. Her older siblings Elliot and Nell are pausing their busy lives to fly to Georgia to be with Sasha, Stan’s fifth wife, and their daughter Mindy. Kate is baffled by how quickly her brother and sister have booked their flights, and is forced onto another flight by her husband Peter — right before he tells her he wants a divorce. Kate remembers an affair she had and isn’t surprised by her husband’s scorn, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Wondering how any of her siblings, half-siblings or mothers-in-law could possibly want to mourn Stan’s death, Kate tries in vain to bolster her head and her heart for a tumultuous next couple of days. Days spent drinking far too much wine and attempting to read into familial relationships that she barely knew existed — what else is there to do at a family reunion predicated on a suicide?

 

Hannah Pittard opens and nurses complex relations between her cast of lovingly crafted and completely human characters, illustrating that a sense of familiarity — with people, places or things — can cause people to take an introspective look at what they’ve become and where they’re headed. Coming-of-age fans will find lots to like in Reunion, as will teens and new adults who enjoy relationship-centric stories.

Tom