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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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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

 
 

Silvered Miasma

Silvered Miasma

posted by:
April 24, 2015 - 7:00am

Find Me by Laura van den BergPrepare to embark on a journey through desolation in Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Find Me is a deglamorized record of post-pandemic survival, one where recovery cannot begin until what’s held dear is forsaken.

 

Joy Jones is in the hospital, but not because she is sick; rather, she’s flotsam in the wake of a new virus that has left America 400,000 people fewer. Joy is one of around 90 survivors living in quarantine at the hospital, hoping to avoid the sickness which manifests as silver skin lesions and deteriorates the memory until the body forgets how to function. Under Dr. Bek and his armada of imposing nurses clad in hazmat suits, the 90 undergo daily stress tests to increase their chances of survival. Despite the uncomfortably close monitoring, some of the interned contract the illness and are sent to the upper floors to die. Joy knows that things at this medical sanctuary aren’t as they seem, and the sudden imposition of a localized media blackout exacerbates her fears. Armed with a photo of her estranged mother bequeathed to her by a deceased aunt, Joy plans her escape with the hopes of finding all she has squandered and relinquished.

 

Find Me is about loss both immediate and lifelong; it’s a mural of a populace haunted by all things unrecoverable. In a world where there is no hope or love left to fill voids, chasms consume those desperate souls who can’t bring themselves to let go. Laura van den Berg writes in a superb literary voice without betraying her young heroine, and brings ancillary characters to life through their unique memory mnemonics and coping mechanisms. Readers who enjoyed or who are anxiously awaiting their copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven should go to great lengths to track this one down.

Tom

 
 

The First Bad Man

The First Bad Man

posted by:
April 20, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The First Bad ManMiranda July is an extraordinary artist capable of channeling her creativity into any medium, and her debut novel The First Bad Man surpasses the ambitiousness of her fantastic short collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. In The First Bad Man, July makes a mockery of relationship conventions and proves through her quirky, heavily flawed characters that for love to exist, it simply needs to be felt.

 

Manic, obsessive, middle-aged Cheryl works from home for a nonprofit women’s self-defense studio. Her bosses Carl and Suzanne are looking for a volunteer to shelter their obstinate daughter Clee who is in desperate need of a change of scenery, but they’re met with little enthusiasm around the office. So when Clee shows up on Cheryl’s doorstep with her stuff, neither she nor Cheryl is prepared for how violently their disparate worlds are about to collide. At first, the two avoid each other when they’re both home, but once they’re forced to acknowledge how weird this is, the avoidance devolves into nightly wrestling matches inspired by the self-defense exercises constituting their livelihoods. Ritual gives way to shame, which cycles back to anger between the estranged housemates, and it takes a grounding realization for Clee to feel open to reconciliation with Cheryl. Will their relationship bloom into something even more complex and beautiful, or break down like everything else in their lives has?

 

Cheryl and Clee waver between the roles of optimist and pessimist, offsetting the absurdity of their situation with a sense of “I guess it could happen” realism. With a supporting cast including a pair of psychiatrists with more problems than their clientele and a philanderer who needs a spiritual permission slip to do his thing, The First Bad Man is a strangely perverse, endearing and memorable warping of the tale of two people united by calamity.

Tom

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Crimson Coils

Crimson Coils

posted by:
March 23, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for You Feel So MortalWhen composed by a gifted writer, creative nonfiction can be a magical vessel capable of alchemizing the mundane into the enthralling. Lifelong-Chicagoan Peggy Shinner is one such sorceress; in her collection You Feel So Mortal, she reflects on the elemental aesthetics and feelings of the human body, touching on the ideas of awkward feet, poor posture, proper fit and even plastic surgery.

 

In “The Fitting(s),” Shinner recounts a harrowing trip to an upscale department store to purchase new bras with the aid of a professional fitter. Her tale is laced with memories of shopping with her mother, and her own ponderings on the implications of choosing the alluring over the practical as a sort of gratuity to the fitter’s expertise. Shinner chronicles her experiences training as an advanced martial artist in “The Knife,” an essay about the myriad reciprocities between our bodies and the tools we use. “Elective” is a soul-bearing debate on the merits of plastic surgery: Does the empowerment of perceived beauty outweigh the emotional strain born from the defilement of one’s natural state?

 

Blended with sentimental storytelling in a lighter literary voice, Shinner’s factual anecdotes help characterize her worldly observations. She treasures her rare vantage and shares her assembled insights in nine accessible essays brimming with equal parts nostalgia and profundity. You Feel So Mortal is perfect for literary essay enthusiasts, for nonfiction lovers looking for something endearing and sentimental, or for readers interested in a Jewish or lesbian perspective.

Tom

 
 

Moonraker

Cover art for Star Wars: A New DawnSince the Clone Wars, Emperor Palpatine’s reach spans as far as Star Destroyer warp drives can extend. For some, the tumultuous peace is just another inevitable hardship of border planet living, but other galactic citizens aren’t as keen to bend to the Emperor’s will. In Star Wars: A New Dawn, longtime comic and Lucas Books writer John Jackson Miller introduces two new characters who are poised to become lingering thorns in Palpatine’s side as they rally their own rebellion, one refugee at a time.

 

Planet Gorse is only inhabited by holdout colonists clinging to a declining mining trade. They spend their days harvesting thorilide, a commodity for droid and weapons manufacturing, and their nights drinking away their hard-earned credits at Okadiah’s planetside cantina. Working to impress the Emperor, ruthless and cunning business mogul Count Vidian arrives on Gorse to survey the thorilide supply and optimize what little industry remains. His investigation leads him to Cynda, Gorse’s moon, which is also laden with thorilide. The trick is that extracting thorilide from beneath the moon’s surface is time-consuming, and both Vidian and the Emperor are unwilling to wait for the materials to trickle in from border space.

 

Kanan Jarrus is a Cyndan miner seemingly like all the other holdouts, but he is able to draw exceptional strength and willpower from the pain of loss he has been harboring since childhood. Jarrus notices the out-of-place Vidian marching around with his clone soldier escorts and takes it upon himself to keep the other miners safe by any means. He runs into Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek spy who has been trailing Vidian across the galaxy, and the two ally to combat the encroaching Empire. Can they stop Vidian from hatching a nefarious plan to harvest Cynda’s resources in a highly unethical and ultimately lethal manner?

 

Kanan and Hera continue their adventures in the animated series Star Wars Rebels which has spawned numerous Star Wars books for children. Adult and teen readers who enjoy A New Dawn should round up their children, brothers and sisters for a Star Wars party!

Tom

 
 

Thrasher Thresher

Thrasher Thresher

posted by:
February 20, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for If I Fall, If I DieAge and ability share a unique relation in fiction. Sometimes authors choose to write prodigious characters who display impressive physical prowess and struggle with complicated emotions earlier in life. In his debut novel If I Fall, If I Die, author Michael Christie pits 11-year-old protagonist Will against the sprawled, dilapidated Canadian port town of Thunder Bay.

 

Will’s childhood has been squandered within the confines of his home, due to his mother’s plethora of phobias. A former artist, Will’s mother is so afraid of what exists beyond her front door that she cloisters herself and her son within their dwelling. Will stews in his room painting abstract art while nursing a burgeoning curiosity of the Outside, about which everything he knows is cobbled from brief interactions with delivery men on the porch. One such meeting with a boy named Marcus opens Will’s eyes to the omnipotent wonders of the woods beyond his yard, and leaves him yearning for adventure into town. Exceptionally wily thanks to his mother’s unique homeschooling methods, Will finds every opportunity to venture further into the world with his only friend Jonah, resorting to his recently acquired and rapidly evolving sense of perspective as a heading.

 

Readers will delight in Christie’s frequent and masterful use of similes throughout If I Fall, If I Die as they color Will’s Wizard of Oz-esque quest for humanity. A debut that reads as beautifully as it echoes, If I Fall, If I Die is for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories or tales of adventure. Readers who enjoyed Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will see shades of Junior in Will, and will definitely like his story too.    

 

Tom

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Things Carried

Things Carried

posted by:
February 3, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for Fives and Twenty-FivesMichael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives is the perfect book for customers clamoring for their holds on Phil Klay’s National Book Award-winning collection Redeployment. Like Klay, Pitre is also a former Marine who served in Iraq before returning home to chronicle his thoughts in writing, using fiction to reveal the realest truths.

 

Fives and Twenty-Fives reads as an assemblage of harrowing experiences Pitre survived while on active duty, told through three characters whose stories are woven into a moving novel. These three Marines comprise a portion of an Iraq Road Repair Platoon that sweeps U.S. military routes through the desert in search of hidden explosives. Donovan, the lieutenant, tries to lead and represent his squad while combatting the weight of self-loathing and the isolation of rank amidst imminent ambush. Lester “Doc” Pleasant is the platoon’s medic responsible for the lives of his teammates, but after witnessing a Marine overlook a live bomb, he resorts to his field kit for solace. Road Repair’s interpreter is an intelligent third-world post-grad named Kateb, known as callsign “Dodge” by his platoon. Dodge harbors an internal war between morality and loyalty that keeps him distanced from the Marines. Whenever his wall of superficiality is breached by violence, Dodge folds into a disheveled copy of Huck Finn and reflects on the university life that was stolen from him.

 

With a supporting unit of strongly humanized soldiers, Road Repair wages perpetual war with scorching desert conditions and treacherous insurgent traps. Pitre illustrates these losing battles without overwhelming readers with military jargon or trivializing the emotions and dispatches. Even with checks like fives and twenty-fives in place, it’s impossible to return from deployment unscathed.

Tom

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End All, Be All

End All, Be All

posted by:
January 27, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for Man v. NatureDiane Cook’s stories in her debut collection Man v. Nature are similar to Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series in that they depict an end of the world in which conflict is more survivor-centric than cataclysm-centric. Cook accomplishes this feat repeatedly throughout her stories, with multiple instances of apocalypse serving as mere backdrops while her characters continue their lives unabated by cordiality. While Kirkman’s tales ooze with gore, Cook’s exude wonderment and danger in dazzling prose.

 

Premiere in Man v. Nature is “Moving On,” the grim telling of a widow internment center that functions like an adult orphanage. The mood around the grounds is bleak enough that reality becomes overpowered and contorts to make room for places like this to exist as if they’ve been institutionalized. “Meteorologist Dave Santana” pits a woman against her own sexual desires as she tries everything to seduce her neighbor, a homely and less than upstanding weatherman. “The Mast Year” portrays a woman who is chosen by fate to share her good fortune with those in need, no matter the personal cost. She grapples with notions of sacrifice, unable to separate charity from obligation until she no longer recognizes her own life. Lastly, the titular “Man v. Nature” is the account of a man and his two friends who are stranded in a tiny lifeboat adrift on a vast lake. As exposure besets and their bodies atrophy, they reminisce and eventually curse one another for past transgressions until their misdirected anger threatens to become their undoing.

 

Man v. Nature’s stories are all so convincing in their heavy fictitiousness that the reader never questions the altered existences. Emotions are so poignant that doubt never surfaces; rather, fingers are crossed, eyes are squeezed shut and knees are taken in supplication to will the characters to safety. But in Cook’s worlds, safety may no longer exist, and instead readers are given deliciously unsettling new normalcies.

Tom

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Now You're Thinking With...

Now You're Thinking With...

posted by:
January 6, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for See You In ParadiseIt’s not often that a book cover really captures the essence of the words contained within, but J. Robert Lennon’s collection See You in Paradise is complemented perfectly by its paradisal suburb set against a split pea soup sky. Lennon’s stories share a theme of familial dissolution, which makes the pop art a choice of scrumptious irony. It's always easiest to smile and embrace delusions of complacency.

 

See You in Paradise's opening story "Portal" is a clever spin on the concepts of growing up and growing apart and sets the tone for the book. A young brother-sister duo discovers a portal in the woods behind the family house and rushes to tell mom and dad. After a cautious inspection, the family decides to venture through together and reappears on the other side of town. Portal trips quickly become a familial ritual, until one goes awry and has lasting consequences for everyone. "Zombie Dan" is what happens when scientists develop a revivification process for the rich, but haven't quite perfected their techniques. Each newly restored corpse exhibits unintended complications; in Dan's case, he develops mind-reading powers after reminiscing with former friends and uses his new powers to exhume buried truths. "The Wraith" is the story of a manic woman who is able to separate her negative energies into a sullen, lifeless copy of herself, which she does before each workday. Her husband works from home and is left alone with his husk-wife until curiosity eventually gets the best of him, and their relationship is forever altered.

 

Lennon's stories depict the repressed tragedies of suburbia in a witty, imaginative manner, which makes the slightly melancholy mood feel more like reverie than depression. Readers who enjoy See You in Paradise should also check out Kevin Wilson's Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.

 

Tom

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