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The Last Days of Night

posted by: October 3, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for The Last Days of NightAs far as patent disputes go, this was a doozy. Graham Moore’s excellent new historical legal thriller, The Last Days of Night, plops us right into the hotbed of technological innovation that was in situ in late 19th century America. Readers are rewarded with the wonders of invention, dubious plots, a smidgen of romance and a peek into the wiring of the greatest minds of the day set amid Gilded Age New York.


So who really invented the light bulb? Neophyte attorney Paul Cravath finds himself embroiled in the legal wrangling between the inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse. Cravath is hired to defend Westinghouse against a patent lawsuit filed by Edison. Edison says he holds the right to electrify a country still aglow with gas lamps. There is also the dilemma of alternating current (Westinghouse) versus direct current (Edison), with the winner transforming the world. Cravath is over his head and knows it in this highly readable retelling of the War of the Electric Currents that actually took place between 1888 and 1896.


Moore, author of The Sherlockian and the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, actually recreates the time period from 1888 to 1890. Along the way, we are introduced to familiar names, like J.P. Morgan, Alexander Bell and Viktor Tesla, as well as the birth and controversy of the modern electric chair. Cravath’s love interest, the singer Agnes Huntington, develops into a surprising multi-hued personality that adds the merest trifle of melodrama.

With a calibrated dose of legal and technical jargon, Moore’s fast-moving narrative is certain to carry broad appeal for readers wanting to get inside the heads of brilliant and visionary giants. For those wanting the real story, try the excellent Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, George Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World by historian Jill Jonnes. A film adaption of The Last Days of Night is also in the works, starring actor Eddie Redmayne as Paul Cravath.



posted by: September 27, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for StilettoSpies. Monsters. Super powers. And…bureaucratic humor? In Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley delivers a riveting novel that covers all of the above and more. A follow up to his smash hit The Rook, this novel delves deeper into the world of the Rookery, a covert agency in the English government that employs individuals with unusual abilities to protect their country from threats internal and external.


In this book, the Rookery is looking to make nice with an age old foe. But how do you join two groups, when both have been raised since time immemorial to despise the other? Old wounds are re-opened and loyalties are tested when these organizations are forced to confront very real threats to themselves, their colleagues and to England itself.


While modern fantasy/espionage/horror/office humor is a pretty niche sub-genre, Daniel O’Malley does a great job of making this book accessible to all audiences. Funny and insightful one moment, terrifying and tense the next, O’Malley seamlessly blends genres to keep the reader engaged from start to finish. He also does a great job of mining his premise for unexpected humor — at one point they discuss how a Gorgon was driven from England not by an armed assault, but by a series of increasingly withering tax audits.


A great read for fans of urban fantasy, this book has humor, heart and a few good scares in store for its readers. If you enjoy this book, you could also check out The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, another series about English spies defending crown and country from the supernatural while dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Urban fantasy fans might also enjoy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files; the first book in that series is Storm Front. It follows a modern day private investigator who also happens to be a wizard, mixing dry humor with thrilling action and some terrifying moments.




posted by: September 22, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for SiracusaDelia Ephron is best-known for her humorous writing and for lighthearted screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But her latest novel, Siracusa, displays a decidedly more cynical view of relationships.


Siracusa begins with Lizzie, who thinks a vacation in Italy is just what she and her husband David need to revive their flagging writing careers and their dwindling passion for one another. They’re joined on the trip by another couple — Finn, Lizzie’s fun-loving old flame from college, and his uptight wife Taylor. Dragged along for the fun is Snow, Finn and Taylor’s sullen preteen daughter. If bringing an old boyfriend and his family along for a vacation sounds like a bad idea to you, you’d be right. In fact, few vacation disasters can rival the nightmarish results when this group makes its way to the ancient island of Siracusa.


Each main character takes a turn recounting the trip’s gradual descent into tragedy.  Without exception, all of them are breathtakingly self-involved or delusional (or both). Thus none of them can see what the reader sees — the huge disaster heading straight for them.


Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, Siracusa presents readers with difficult to like protagonists who never tell the whole truth. The crumbling city of Siracusa provides an excellent symbolic backdrop for Ephron’s well-written blend of dark domestic drama and deadly suspense.


Modern Lovers

posted by: September 21, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Modern LoversEmma Straub has a certain knack for writing. Her latest novel, Modern Lovers, doesn’t disappoint. It is fun and engrossing while also offering hefty portions of wit and insight.


Two families living side by side in New York City’s Ditmas Park are spending the summer sorting out their tangled relationships. For Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe, it hardly seems like two decades since they graduated from Oberlin — letting go their rock star aspirations and announcing the end of their band. Now, however, movie producers want to make a biopic about the fourth member of their band who went on to become an icon of their era before joining the 27 Club. The movie can’t be made unless the remaining members sign off on the rights to their lives and the use of a song Elizabeth wrote, which made Lydia a superstar. The prospect has unearthed a lot of buried secrets and strained relationships.


Zoe and Elizabeth have remained best friends. Elizabeth followed Zoe to New York, and when Elizabeth married Andrew, they moved next door to Zoe. The best friends’ kids have even grown up together. Now, however, Zoe’s wife wonders if Elizabeth being so close wasn’t really her just being in the way. Elizabeth no longer knows if it was wise to marry someone she met when she was so young, and Andrew is acting bizarre. To complicate things further, their kids are caught up in a summer romance of their own.


Straub has imagined a wonderful cast of characters. Though she isn’t shy about showing off their flaws, it is hard not to end up liking them, warts and all, and become totally swept up in their lives. I couldn’t put down this story about love and friendship in our modern age.


Fans will also enjoy her previous book, The Vacationers, and One Day by David Nicholls.



Night of the Animals

posted by: September 19, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Night of the AnimalsIn the year 2052, a comet is approaching the Earth, which has inspired a suicide cult called Heaven’s Gate to begin sacrificing animals. The cult believes that killing animals will help them achieve a “level above human.” Because of this, animals around the entire world face mass extinction. In Bill Broun’s Night of the Animals, one man named Cuthbert Handley believes he must free the animals of the London Zoo, one of the last remaining havens for animals, to save the animals themselves and all of humanity. Cuthbert is an indigent man in his 90s with a serious heart condition, an addiction to a hallucinogenic drug and a curious gift called the Wonderments, that allows him to communicate with animals.


During his mission to free the animals, Cuthbert experiences a variety of mixed emotions and thoughts, from wondering if he actually possesses the Wonderments to wondering if he’s just crazy and hallucinating, to hoping that he is just doing the right thing. Cuthbert’s struggle to deal with the consequences — good or bad — of his decisions leads to some in-depth pondering and philosophical discussions with some interesting animals. Will Cuthbert be successful in his mission? Will the night of the animals be everything he hoped?


Though the story revolves around the single night of Cuthbert’s mission, Broun takes us through Cuthbert’s life and what led him to this event. We learn that Cuthbert’s entire life has been difficult, from the disappearance of his older brother to being accepted by his parents to his present time, where he struggles more than ever. Cuthbert’s character is strongly developed and completely charming.


The dystopian world and science fiction details of Night of the Animals only highlight and emphasize the important aspects of the plot, Cuthbert’s struggle with humanity and the fate of the world. This detail-rich story draws you in, and will have you questioning everything until the end. You simply won’t want to put this exciting and adventurous book down. 


Lily and the Octopus

posted by: September 15, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Lily and the OctopusSteven Rowley’s new book, Lily and the Octopus, is a dog book you must read. Even if you don’t like dogs — or if you love them so much you can’t bear to read another book about one — you must read this book. At its core, this is really a story about love, loss...and fighting an evil octopus.


Ted and Lily are sitting on the couch discussing cute boys like they do every Thursday when Ted notices the giant octopus on Lily’s small, furry head. Thus begins the epic battle between Ted and this sarcastic, sadistic sea creature that is trying to take his beloved dachshund from him.


Through flashbacks, we get to experience Lily choosing Ted 12 years before and how she changed his life. We also learn more about Ted’s recent breakup and his life before Lily. Rowley deftly weaves this background information into the narrative so that, with each flashback, these people become more real and more relatable to us.


There is a perfect balance to this story. Readers will crack up laughing and ugly cry in the same chapter. In either instance, the emotions in this book never feel fake or forced, and that is probably because it is largely based on the author’s own experience. Just before writing this book, Rowley lost his beloved doggy companion of 12 years, and he has distilled that experience on paper with honesty and understanding.


Mild spoiler alert: In case you haven't already guessed, the octopus is not actually an octopus, which means the plot veers into magical realism from time to time. While the octopus is actually a tumor, and Lily (probably) can’t really play board games, Ted’s imaginative perception of the situation is pitch perfect and captures what it feels like to fight for someone you love.


I read and listened to Lily and the Octopus because I couldn’t put it down, not even while driving or doing dishes, and I highly recommend listening to this one. Michael Urie does such an amazing job narrating all the characters, it really brought the story to life just a little bit more.




posted by: September 14, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for HarmonyWhat would you do to help your suffering child? For most parents, the answer is probably “damn near anything.” Carolyn Parkhurst’s new novel, Harmony, follows a family’s tumble down a rabbit hole in search of an elusive fix for their autistic child.


The Hammond parents have reached the end of their collective rope. Their tween daughter Tilly falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, and socially inept behaviors which were confounding when she was little are frightening with adolescence looming. After being asked to leave yet again another school, Tilly’s parents seek help from an unorthodox source: a man whose charisma and promises lead the family down the primrose path to Camp Harmony. An internet shaman for the neurodevelopmentally challenged, Scott Bean promises salvation, if not outright cures, to desperate parents willing to fork over their assets and live the communal lifestyle at Bean’s utopian retreat in the backwoods of New Hampshire. Is Bean a savior, just another exploitative quack, or something else entirely?


Harmony offers the reader three points of view: younger sister Iris, who loves Tilly but is struggling to find her place in a family focused on its weakest link; mother Alexandra, whose relentless examination of Tilly’s issues propels the family to the camp; and, occasionally, Tilly’s own poignant and imaginative voice which reminds us that behind labels lie unique human beings who actually aren’t so different after all. As Parkhurst writes, we are “exceptional and ordinary, all at the same time.”



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