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Librarians

The Burning, Bloody Sands of Empire

The Burning, Bloody Sands of Empire

posted by:
January 14, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Thousand NamesLast year was an incredibly good year for fantasy novels, especially debut authors. Django Wexler’s first book, The Thousand Names, was one of the best of the year. Like Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, this is another “flintlock fantasy,” a subgenre where the historical context is much later than the typical Medieval/Renaissance setting, with muskets and artillery replacing swords and bows. The Thousand Names is set in a world much like Victorian Britain and, in this first in a series, the location is an analogue for Egypt under British colonial rule. Just as the Mahdi’s Revolt and religious reawakening threatened British rule in Egypt, the Redeemer Rebellion in Khandar has pushed the Vordanai Colonial Regiment to the sea. The Old Colonials hang on to a miserable spit of land awaiting evacuation, instead they get reinforcement in the form of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a character equal parts Field Marshall Wellington, General “Chinese” Gordon and Yoda. Vhalnich hasn’t come to organize a retreat, nor is his primary objective the re-conquest of Khandar, but something else entirely.
 

This incredibly well written military fantasy/adventure novel, full of deadly deserts and marauding horseman, harkens back to books like Beau Geste by Percival Wren and The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason and movies like Khartoum. It also breaks new ground in powerful female protagonists in gender-defying roles and romances. There are no damsels in distress here, as they are too busy putting cold steel to their enemies. Wexler has created a world that he can expand to a global setting or narrow to focus on court intrigue, as his next book seems to do. More importantly, the court intrigue and the excellently detailed battles never take primacy over character development. Waxler has given us a band of brothers — and sisters — that have depth and motivation, and are compelling to read about. The magic use in the book builds slowly and organically until the climatic end, which is a scene fit for the big screen. The Thousand Names delivers on all its promise and shows how a good fantasy novel can shake up old tropes and borrow and improve on tropes from other types of literature. It will leave you wondering why the second book isn’t already in your hands.

Brian

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A Whiff of Powder

A Whiff of Powder

posted by:
December 26, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for Promise of BloodThere is a new subgenre of epic fantasy that seems to be growing called flintlock fantasy. Traditional epic fantasy has a Medieval or Renaissance type setting; technology is limited, and religion and magic dominate. Not so in one of the best new contenders in this subgenre, Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. Promise of Blood is the first book in the new Powder Mage Trilogy. McClellan’s world is poised on the brink of modernity, with steam power, labor unions and massed armies using cannons and muskets. Much as the modern era was kicked off with the violence of the French Revolution and rise of Napoleon, Promise of Blood begins with a popular military commander ousting the corrupt hapless king and his unfeeling nobility. Soon the cobblestones of “Election Square” — voting being carried out by guillotine — runs red with blood as Royalists seek safety from the revolution behind barricades.

 

Into what otherwise sounds like a retelling of Les Misérables, McClellan adds magic, lots of varied magic. The King is supported by his Royal Cabal of Privileged, which are like the traditional wizards of epic fantasy novels. The revolution is led by the Powder Mages, less powerful than the Privileged. They gain their power from ingesting gunpowder and bullets. The Powder Mages are a reflection of the new modern era about to be born. Other groups integral to the story are Knacked, those who only possess one single ability, and the Predeii, sorcerers older and more powerful than the Privileged. Lastly, there are the old gods, who are not pleased with the Revolution, and they are not forgiving.

 

Promise of Blood is full of battles, magic and mundane. It is rife with court intrigue and the maneuverings of a land in revolution. It features a cross section of characters from different cultural strata. It works on every level. The only good thing about reaching the end of the book is the knowledge that book two in the series comes out in February!

Brian

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What price would you pay?

Cover art for Dead SetNew York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey delights adults and teens alike with Dead Set. After the unexpected death of her father, Zoe and her mother must move to the Tenderloin area of San Francisco while they wait for dividends from her father’s life insurance policy. To deal with her troubles in the real world, Zoe escapes into her dreams where she finds comfort and friendship from her dream brother, Valentine. A mysterious something — or someone — has also joined them in her dream world.

 

Back in the real world, Zoe happens upon a dark and dingy old record store. Most people walk right past the back room with the beaded curtain, but Zoe is curious and goes inside. There she discovers a collection of albums that contain something other than music. The grooves on these records contain lives — souls of people who have passed on but lingered in this world. Emmett, the proprietor of the record store, promises to help Zoe reconnect with her father. All it would cost her is a piece of herself. It starts with a lock of her hair.  The next time, the price is a tooth. How much would you pay to spend another moment with someone you loved and lost? And at what point does the price become too much?

 

Kadrey is best known for his Sandman Slim series. This dark, twisted, stand-alone fantasy novel will appeal to those already familiar with his work as well as those who enjoy a quiet horror story with a strong, albeit sometimes lost, female character.

Christina

 
 

Underground Clairvoyant Syndicate

The Bone Season cover image“Is Samantha Shannon the next J.K. Rowling?” That's the question asked in the July 15th edition of Forbes magazine. Shannon’s debut novel, The Bone Season, is the first in what's expected to be a seven-part series. The novel begins in an alternate universe in the year 2059, about 200 years after a plague covered the planet causing some of the population to become clairvoyant. In the world Shannon has created, there are guards who protect the Scion city of London from clairvoyants because the general population has been told that clairvoyants are dangerous. This futuristic world is a totalitarian society where clairvoyants have to hide their abilities and are treated as criminals.
 

Paige Mahoney is the 19-year-old protagonist of this science fiction thriller. She is called the "Pale Dreamer" because she’s a dream walker, a rare form of clairvoyant. All clairvoyants have a specialty, an area of the sixth sense at which they excel, and Paige’s spirit is able to leave her body and travel into the aether to visit the thoughts and dreams of others. She uses her gift for an underground crime syndicate that employs clairvoyants in a variety of ways depending on their abilities. The lifestyle allows Paige to be around others like her and not feel ashamed of her gifts.
 

The Pale Dreamer’s world is thrown into chaos when underguards discover that she is clairvoyant. She is taken captive and detained with others who have similar abilities. She must learn about herself and her gift in order to regain her freedom, but the task is greater than it seems and failing isn’t an option.
 

This is an incredibly unique book by a debut author. According to The Bone Season’s website, the book’s movie rights have already been claimed by The Imaginarium studios.

Randalee

 
 

The Home on the Fringes of Memory

The Ocean at the End of the LaneIt was a funeral that drew him across the pond and back to England. Time on his hands – and perhaps the expectation of nostalgia – led him deeper into Sussex, to the property where his childhood home had once stood.  He couldn’t say what it was that drew him further down the lane and deeper into reverie. A few minutes more and he had arrived: the Hempstock Farm at the end of the lane.  Whispers of memory kicked up like fog as he left the lane walking toward the farmhouse…he had known someone here, a girl named Lettie he thought. She had been his friend Lettie, who had called a duck pond an ocean and whose family had once been like his own for a time.

 

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, master wordsmith Neil Gaiman beguiles his readers with a new and haunting story - his first for adults since Anansi Boys. In a tale that treads the line between memoir and magical realism, Gaiman invites the reader to join an unnamed middle-aged divorcee as he sits along the bank of an ordinary pond in once-rural England. As he sits, the memory of a simultaneously terrifying and enchanting event in his childhood emerges. The memories of dangerous magic in improbable settings, of his own childhood helplessness, of his faith in Lettie and the Hempstocks, come roiling back to the surface with unexpected force and consequence.

 

This is a story that will engulf both the man and the reader alike, leaving each a little refreshed and a little bewildered at its conclusion. It is a story about true self. It is a tale of sacrifice, and above all it is a tribute to memories, those which haunt us and those which have the power to bring us home again, if only for a little while.

 

Meghan

 
 

A Whole New World

A Whole New World

posted by:
April 26, 2013 - 7:01am

The Golem and the JinniIn her haunting debut novel, author Helene Wecker unfurls an intricately-blended tapestry of Arabian and Jewish folklore, set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century New York. The Golem and the Jinni combines elements of Syrian mythology and Kabbalistic tradition, rendering a remarkably poignant story of the unlikely friendship between two souls out of time and place.

 

Chava has just arrived in New York and, like many new immigrants, she is alone and friendless. Yet Chava has left no homeland to come to America. She has no family keepsakes or mementos. She is a golem, a magical being made of clay and bound to serve. Brought to waking life aboard a ship bound for America, Chava had little time to know her master, who did not survive the voyage. Now, with the help of a rabbi who recognizes her true nature, Chava struggles to find a place and purpose in this strange land. It has been a thousand years since Ahmad last tasted freedom. A jinni, Ahmad is an elemental creature born of fire. For centuries he roamed the Syrian Desert, his home and source of strength. In his youth, his curiosity about humans often led him to trail after caravans and wandering Bedouins. However, even a fire jinni can fly too close to the sun. When he awakens in a New York tinsmith’s shop, all he can remember of his last encounter with humans is the face of the wizard who imprisoned him. Adrift among people who cannot possibly comprehend his plight, Ahmad searches restlessly for a meaning to the mystery behind his capture.

 

Within the pages of this alluring story, the commonplace rubs shoulders with the fantastical. Freedom of will can become as much a burden to those who hold it as it is a necessity to those deprived. Friendship, redemption and acts of sacrifice often appear from unexpected quarters. This novel is recommended for fans of historical fiction and fantasy.

Meghan

 
 

Mash-Up, Anyone?

Mash-Up, Anyone?

posted by:
April 22, 2013 - 8:15am

Red CountryFantasy fans have much to celebrate when Joe Abercrombie releases a new book and they will not be disappointed with his latest novel, Red Country.  Leave it up to Abercrombie to pull off a successful mash-up of a fantasy and a western. Red Country is fun, bloody and action-packed. His latest will be celebrated by the most ardent Abercrombie fans and is sure to create a new fanbase to add to his legion. While Red Country is a stand- alone novel, fans will recognize several characters from this First Law series. At the center of Red Country is Shy South, a tough-as-nails heroine who is seeking vengeance. Her home has been burned, her brother and sister stolen. She sets off to rescue her siblings and is accompanied by Lamb, her timid stepfather who seems to have a mysterious past.

 

Red Country has everything Abercrombie fans have come to expect: deeply-flawed characters, bloody action, realistic dialogue and lots of black humor. Added to this, the novel also succeeds as a Western, complete with frontier towns, a gold rush, a few duels and more than a few ghosts. Abercrombie is often compared to George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. He now stands on his own as one of the freshest, most unique voices in fantasy. Together with his First Law trilogy, Red Country is a perfect introduction to readers who have not yet tried Abercrombie’s version of fantasy. Highly recommended for fans of George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss.

 

Zeke

 
 

Here There Be Dragons

A Natural History of DragonsIsabella Hendemore, now Lady Trent, has had an adventuresome, successful, and often harrowing life researching the lives and habits of the mysterious, dangerous dragons that dwell across the world. Though she has written many books on the subject, rumors and speculation abound about her journeys to far-flung mountaintops and desert plains in search of these elusive creatures. But Lady Trent has finally written her memoirs, and boy are they exciting. The first volume, A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent, is the beginning of a new series by fantasy author Marie Brennan set in a world where dragons are just another type of exotic creature to be studied, hunted, captured and exploited. As a child, Isabella is entranced by the small dragon-like sparklings in her garden, even though natural history is not considered a proper subject of study for young ladies. Her obsession with discovering more about dragons only grows as she matures into adulthood and gets married. When the opportunity to study dragons firsthand arises, she and her husband set out on a thrilling and groundbreaking expedition that carries a deadly cost.

 

As with her previous Onyx Court series, Brennan excels at breathing life into her characters and settings. She looks beyond this first book, casting out storylines that will intrigue readers to follow the adventures in later novels. So hold on to your bonnets, dust off your microscope, and get ready to dig into Brennan’s new fantastical world in A Natural History of Dragons

Rachael

 
 

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

 
 

Fables for Grownups

Fables for Grownups

posted by:
September 14, 2012 - 8:00am

Some Kind of Fairy TaleCharlotte Markham and the House of DarklingIn Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, we meet the Martin family, who has been devastated since their sixteen-year-old daughter Tara mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago. Searches were unsuccessful and her boyfriend Richie was accused but never charged. On Christmas Day Tara resurfaces looking just as she had twenty years before, spinning a seemingly implausible tale of a mysterious gentleman and a place in the woods that only allows access several times a year. Tara insists that only six months have passed, but her family remains twenty years older. The Martin family must decide to question the nature of reality, or question Tara’s sanity. Some Kind of Fairy Tale takes an interesting spin on the contemporary fable and is definitely a unique read.

 

Another new and very different look at another world is the slightly darker Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino. It begins as a standard gothic piece with a large English country house, the master in mourning from the loss of his young wife, and an attractive governess hired to care for the two children. It soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems in the town when the nanny of the boys is murdered, seemingly ripped apart by wild animals. Charlotte and the two boys are also having mysterious dreams about a man dressed entirely in black and a strange house through the mists where the boys’ mother remains alive. When these dreams become reality, Charlotte finds herself playing a dangerous game, one that she must win for the sake of herself and the children. Both of these tales offer strong characters, suspense, mystery and an enticing other-worldly setting. Perfect for adults who want a bit of fairy magic and a fascinating tale that will sweep them out of reality into a world of dreams.

Doug