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Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

posted by:
December 21, 2012 - 9:15am

God Save the QueenIn Kate Locke’s God Save the Queen, the Plague has infected the Aristocracy with something called the Prometheus Protein, which led to vampirism in England and lycanthropy in Scotland. Queen Victoria, a vampire, is about to celebrate 175 years on the throne. British society is now a strange blend of Victorian and modern, and the social ranks are comprised of the infected Aristocracy, Halvies (the half-blood offspring of the Aristocracy), and humans. They all coexist, but animosity between humans and the infected is high.

 

Xandra Vardan, a member of the Royal Guard, is a halvie; her mother was a human courtesan, and her father is an Aristo vampire. Shortly after Xandra’s half-sister Dede disappeared, her family was told that Dede committed suicide, but Xandra has good reason to believe that the corpse provided for her family to identify is not her sister. Xandra’s search for Dede leads her to the goblins’ underground kingdom and to Bedlam where she learns about dark secrets that someone would kill to keep hidden. She soon realizes that everyone she trusts may be part of a conspiracy, and her blood could be key to it all. With the help of Vex MacLaughlin, the sexy Alpha of the UK wolves, and an unlikely cast of outsiders, Xandra must navigate the secrets and lies that could bring down the British Empire.

 

Locke’s unique blend of alternate history, urban fantasy, romance, and steampunk will appeal to readers who enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. Xandra is a tough, smart heroine, and the story reads like the script of an action movie. The Queen is Dead, the next book in Locke’s Immortal Empire series, will be published in February 2013.

 

Beth

 
 

The Blue Dream of Sky

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.

Rachael

 
 

It's the End of the World As We Know It

The Dog StarsThe world has changed in Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars.  A pandemic has infected millions. Many have not survived, and those that have are shunned and avoided.  The novel begins nine years after the outbreak, and centers around pilot Hig and his aging dog, Jasper. Hig and Jasper live at an abandoned airport with survivalist and gun-nut Bangley.  Hig has refurbished a 1956 Cessna, which he takes on short flights in the area. He has to choose his paths with care. If he flies too far, he could run out of fuel.  Airports in the area can be dangerous places. Wandering groups of marauders appear that would kill you as soon as look at you.  Airport runways have fallen into ruin and there is a good chance Hig would not be able to land.  He could find himself too far from home, and not able to find the fuel he needs to get back.  He finds himself desperately lonely.  He is reminded of his wife Melissa who died during the pandemic.  Bangley is not much for conversation. Occasionally, Hig flies to deliver supplies to a group of Mennonites who have been infected with the blood disease, but he can never get too close with them. Suddenly, a tragic event happens that will change Hig’s perceptions and force him to make a decision that will alter the course of his life.

 

The Dog Stars is primarily a character study of a man who has lost hope.  It is a heartbreaking work, and the reader gets the sense of intense loneliness that Hig is feeling, trapped in this new world, fighting each day for survival.  Written in short passages and often single sentences, the story has a distinct style that is very readable and ultimately compelling.  This is a novel to be savored, and the reader will remember Hig long after they have finished the final page.

Doug

 
 

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

 
 

Farewell Summer, Live Forever

Shadow ShowThis summer, the world suffered the loss of literary giant Ray Bradbury. In the same summer, we found him again between the pages of a remarkable new anthology: Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury. Twenty-six of today’s finest authors, some bestsellers, some living legends in their own right, have come together in this anthology to pay tribute and to immortalize the magnificent mind and imagination of Bradbury. The collection, prepared prior to the honoree’s passing, includes a poignant yet humorous introduction by Bradbury himself, in which he expresses his love and gratitude for his literary children and welcomes the reader to enjoy the family reunion within. 

 

In Shadow Show Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dan Chaon, Alice Hoffman, David Morrell, Sam Weller and a score of other immensely talented authors have contributed a diverse range of original short stories in celebration of the life and works of the Teller of Tales. Some stories are laced with deliberate allusion to individual Bradbury works, while other compositions display a subtler, more effervescent influence. Each tale is concluded with a uniquely personal author’s note, explaining the influence either Bradbury or a story he wrote has had on the author’s life and the story contributed. As one reads through the tales and accompanying notes, it becomes apparent that what makes this anthology so very special is not so much the talent of the contributors– though considerable – as the genuinely mindful  care taken by each author to create something worthy of their literary papa.

 

Bradbury once recounted the story of how he became a writer, citing a surreal, almost dreamlike encounter with a magician in his childhood. Sharing a chance meeting and ensuing conversation one afternoon following a funeral, the magician confided to the boy that in young Bradbury he saw the soul of his best friend reborn. As many will readily agree, to read Bradbury is to know him like a best friend known lifelong. As the contributing authors so skillfully demonstrate in Shadow Show, though Mr. Bradbury may have passed from this realm, his indelible influence will live forever.

 

Meghan

 
 

Supercharged Sci-Fi

Supercharged Sci-Fi

posted by:
August 7, 2012 - 9:00am

AmpedWhat if you could instantly make yourself smarter, faster, and stronger? In the near-future world of Amped by Daniel H. Wilson, people can do just that. Scientists have created a brain implant called the Neural Autofocus, a tiny computer chip that upgrades normal human abilities. This “amp” is a miracle cure for people with learning disabilities, vision impairments, and certain disorders, but the rest of society is worried that this technology blurs the line between human and superhuman. The nation becomes divided and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court decides that amped individuals are not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, thus stripping them of their civil rights. 

 

On the day of this landmark ruling, we meet twenty-nine-year-old teacher Owen Gray. Owen has had an amp in his brain since childhood to control his seizures, but he soon discovers that the technology inside his head holds a dangerous military secret. Now Owen is on the run and takes refuge in rural Oklahoma, where he finds a trailer park haven for fellow “amps” and meets an ex-soldier named Lyle Crosby. Lyle was part of an experimental military group of superhuman amps, and he wants Owen to join their ranks to fight back against a fear-mongering senator and his anti-amp organization called the Pure Human Citizen’s Council. Owen wants to help, but first he has to unlock his hidden talents that make him question what it means to be human.

 

As with last year’s hit Robopocalypse (soon to be a Steven Spielberg film), Amped explores current issues like bigotry and the slippery slope of digital technology. Wilson holds advanced degrees in robotics and artificial intelligence, so he is definitely in his element with this startling and action-packed technothriller. If you enjoy fast-paced science fiction, Amped promises to be one of the most exciting books you’ll read this summer!

 

Alex

 
 

Nancy’s Worlds

Nancy’s Worlds

posted by:
July 31, 2012 - 8:30am

Fountain of Age:StoriesIn her latest collection of short stories, Fountain of Age: Stories, author Nancy Kress offers her readers nine glimpses into futures fantastic, paired with human impulses as old as time.

 

In "End Game" an extraordinarily gifted seventh-grade boy named Allen is carried screaming from math class. He has come to a revelation that will alter the focus of his world and the world of those around him, half a lifetime in the future. In "Images of Anna" photographer Ben is increasingly flummoxed when the glamor portrait shots he takes of his latest client turn out to be anything (and anyone) other than he’d expected. In "Laws of Survival" Jill, a shattered survivor of The War, finds the most unlikely means of healing while trapped aboard an extraterrestrial outpost with 19 dogs. In "By Fools Like Me" Hope’s grandmother grapples with the morality of relinquishing a cache of sinful Pre-Crash artifacts to her society, which is hobbled as much by its ignorance of history as by its fear of repeating it.

 

Kress works in the media of human emotions upon the surfaces of extraordinary situations with the subtlety and skill that Andrew Wyeth once applied egg tempera to panel. The stories contained with Fountain of Age are provocative, mildly disturbing, and at times oddly wistful. They represent a curious blend of styles, at one turn reminiscent of O. Henry, at another, Shirley Jackson, yet in every respect distinctly Kress’ own.

 

Kress is recommended for readers who are short on time but crave well-crafted situational tales capable of fully absorbing the imagination. Those who have already read and enjoyed Fountain of Age may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Shadow Puppets.

 

 

Meghan

 
 

Prelude to a Canticle

Prelude to a Canticle

posted by:
June 8, 2012 - 6:01am

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the FallIt wasn’t dark. It wasn’t light. It wasn’t anything except cold. 

‘I’m dead,’ thought Pete.

But of course, he wasn’t.

 

From the first page and as effortlessly as a beam of light slipping through panes of glass, author Nancy Kress eases the reader into a remarkable narrative of many faces. Simple and compelling, atheistic and allegorical, neither utopian nor dystopian, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is a story of humanity in incubation.

 

After (2035): Earth’s fragile population consists of 19 humans living in captivity: five Survivors of the Fall, six genetically mutated and infertile offspring, and seven exquisitely precious Grab children. To each, the smooth walls of the Shell represent a prison and a home. At 15, Pete is among the oldest of the Six and one of the few children born to the original 25 Survivors. In ten minutes time, he will risk his life to save humanity – again.

 

Before (2013): Mathematician Julie Kahn has been collaborating for months with the FBI, tracking a tenuous pattern of mysteriously linked kidnappings and burglaries occurring along the eastern coast of the United States. A few hysterical parents babble incoherently about their babies having been snatched by misshapen teenagers before disappearing in dazzling streaks of light. Their sputtering accounts are largely ignored, except by Julie and Gordon, her FBI contact and onetime lover. Following a complex algorithm she’s devised, the next attempt may be the kidnappers’ last.

 

During (2014): Beneath the soil and all around the world, tiny mutations begin to occur almost simultaneously in the bacteria surrounding the root systems of clover, grass and other diverse plant life. By the time a low swell of awareness of the rapidly increasing dead zones boils into full blown paranoia, it will be too late for the humanity that was.

 

In this Janus-styled tale, Kress weaves together the converging paths of these very different slices of humankind. Juxtaposing contemporary characters such as Julie Khan against those stripped of the context of a complex society, such as Pete, Kress brings an unusual focus to the pause between disaster and rebuilding, after the fall of a society and before its rebirth. One notable trend in the sci-fi genre in recent years has been a tendency to employ near-future settings as narrative backdrops – scenarios which could conceivably come to pass in a generation or so. Here, Kress takes this trend one bold step beyond many of her peers by incorporating a disquietingly immediate future (2014) as the stage for the Fall itself. A cautionary tale as much as a work of science fiction, this title will have widespread appeal among readers of diverse reading habits. Those who have enjoyed Walter Miller’s timeless A Canticle for Leibowitz may particularly appreciate the cyclical nature of Kress’ narrative and her treatment of humanity in stasis, before the cycle begins again.

Meghan

 
 

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesOn Tuesday, it was announced that legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury had passed away at age 91. A long-time supporter of libraries and librarians, Bradbury's most famous and sometimes considered controversial work, Fahrenheit 451, remains a perennial choice of summer reading lists, the canon of 20th-century literature, and a target of book banners. Bradbury began writing that celebrated novel in the basement of a library. His writings ranged from short stories, screenplays, and novels such as the haunting Something Wicked This Way Comes and the beloved coming-of-age title Dandelion Wine.

 

Another of Bradbury's classics is The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories that, using thinly-veiled references to the Cold War, had people guessing who was colonizing whom. Through science fictional constructs, Bradbury excelled at forcing humans to look at the decisions they make. Elegies have come in from many sources, as far ranging as Neil Gaiman, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and President Obama.

Todd

 
 

A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia