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Librarians

Naturalist, Hunter, Inventor, Millionaire

BirdseyeAlthough the name Clarence Birdseye immediately conjures up images of frozen vegetables, the subject of historian Mark Kurlansky’s Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man accomplished so much more. This fascinating biography shows the man as a curious problem solver and opportunist, always quick to devise inventive solutions while making money along the way. Birdseye was a naturalist from an early age, as well as an avid hunter. At the age of ten, young Clarence earned his first shotgun with the profits he made by shipping live muskrat to an English aristocrat who was stocking an estate. He promptly taught himself the art of taxidermy, even attempting to teach others for money.

 

As a student at Amherst studying the sciences, Birdseye spent his free time “wandering the fields with a shotgun on his shoulder.” He was forced to drop out due to lack of money.  His job as an assistant naturalist with the U.S. Biological Survey stoked his interest in cooking such exotic meats as chipmunk, mice, and rattlesnake. A later job with the Department of Agriculture sent him packing to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana as part of a group looking to study Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Birdseye put his hunting skills and enthusiasm to good use, killing a variety of mammals that host the carrier of the disease, the wood tick. His contribution to the study was notable.

 

Luckily his wife, Eleanor, was a patient woman who didn’t seem to mind her husband’s frequent absences. A later adventure saw him in the frozen land of Labrador where his interests turned to fox farming. His journal and letters to his family (which eventually included six children) were full of descriptions of food, especially recipes featuring unusual provisions like seal meat and porcupine.A deep interest in food preservation led him to begin experimenting with various freezing techniques, beginning with snow pack. Birdseye realized that freezing food is far from a straightforward process if one desires a palatable thawed product. Eventually his determination and sharp sense of observation paid off, leading to innovations that revolutionized the way people eat.

 

Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man, holds wide appeal for anyone who enjoys intriguing nonfiction. The self-made man comes alive through Kurlansky’s evocative descriptions and choice details. Readers who enjoyed his previous classic titles (which included mentions of Birdseye) Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and Salt: A World History, will find much to like here.

 

 

Paula G.

 
 

Listen and Laugh

BossypantsTina Fey’s bestselling memoir, Bossypants, published by Hachette Audio, claimed top honors at the 2012 Audie Awards, announced last week at the Audio Publishers Association's 17th annual Audies Gala  in New York. “Like going out for coffee with an old and funny friend” is how judges described this year’s winner for Audiobook of the Year. Noted for delivering “on all fronts,” Fey was recognized for her stellar performance and a smart marketing campaign that included both print and social media.  Bossypants also won in the Biography/Memoir category.

 

Among other works celebrated, Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large by William Shatner with Chris Regan, won in the Humor category. Produced by Penguin Audio, the opinionated Shatner narrates in his inimitable speaking style, "his rules for life with great panache and shards of autobiographical detail." Dispensing worldly wisdom is all in good humor in the octogenarian’s sometimes messy universe.  For a complete list of winners, visit The Audies website here.

Cynthia

 
 

The Ties That Bind

Father's DayThe Bar Mitzvah and The BeastExploring the bond between fathers and sons requires time, and sometimes great distance. Two authors travel across the country through the peaks and valleys of an emotional roller coaster toward accepting their children for who they are. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger peels back his life’s raw layers in Father's Day: a Journey into the Mind and Heart of my Extraordinary Son. The father of adult twins, Bissinger deals openly with self-pity, guilt and the disappointment at having an intellectually challenged son. He desperately wants to know twenty-four year old Zach better as they embark on a cross-country road trip to all the places Zach has lived. The journey is not easy for either. Bissinger is frustrated by shortcomings they both possess, including his own psychological failings. To tell Zach's story, Bissinger shifts back and forth from present day to past recollections. He authenticates his son's voice by omitting punctuation to capture Zach's enthusiastic ramblings. In doing so, he defines a voice he as a father comes to appreciate as happy, contented and worthy of celebration.

 

Another journey takes place in Matt Biers-Ariel's The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast: One Family’s Cross-Country Ride of Passage by Bike. The author's 13 year old son, Yonah, has been an atheist since kindergarten days; there are no plans for a bar mitzvah here. Instead, to mark Yonah’s rite of passage, Biers-Ariel suggests an ambitious cross-country cycling trip that becomes a family affair. Add to the journey a social action petition on global climate change, overly stuffed panniers, a temperamental used tandem bicycle called "the beast," and relentless convection oven heat for much of the trip. Biers-Ariel is quick to share his awe of nature and spiritual and environmental self-reflection with his son. In the end this travel memoir is a poignant coming of age story sure to please adults and teens alike.

Cynthia

 
 

Father of Mine

A Good ManA Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver, is a love letter to a man who was constantly referred to as “A Good Man” at the time of his funeral in 2011. His son Mark Shriver wanted to explore what made so many friends, journalists, and family members talk about his father in those terms. This memoir brings Sargent Shriver to light through episodic remembrances. Mark Shriver freely admits that he needed a village of former colleagues as well as his own family and friends to unearth the memories that he didn’t realize were still buried in his mind. While the list is long, this is largely a son’s fond thoughts about the man who made him who he is today. This is a personal look into the man who worked hard for what he believed in, yet remained a humble, beloved father to his five children.

 

Founder of the Peace Corps, Head Start, and along with his wife Eunice, the Special Olympics, Sargent Shriver was one of the larger-than-life figures of the last century. His accomplishments are legion. Jacqueline Kennedy even asked him to take responsibility for planning JFK’s funeral.

 

Documented with two inserts that include many Shriver and Kennedy family photos, the book is a nice addition to the canon of books that explore what many consider “America’s Royalty”. Particularly moving is the sad decline into dementia and Alzheimer’s that felled Sargent Shriver, and the situation his wife and children dealt with in its wake. But this is mostly a celebration of a good man and a good father, well told by a son who is rightfully proud of his dad.

Todd

 
 

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Born to be BradYou Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) chronicles the career of the multitalented and lovely Vanessa Williams. Readers will know her most recently from her appearance on Desperate Housewives, but her earliest claim to fame was in 1983, becoming the first African-American Miss America. She was soon forced to resign when nude pictures surfaced. Recovering from the scandal, Vanessa became a sensation in the world of popular music, theater, movies, and eventually television. Her loving, supportive mother Helen, a retired vocal music teacher, has always been instrumental in her success. Helen herself offers some insightful thoughts on what it is like to raise a famous daughter. You Have No Idea, co-written by mother and daughter, has a light, conversational tone and includes wonderful personal family photographs. It is perfect for fans who would like to get to know Vanessa better, and for anyone looking for an inspirational story of a strong bond between mother and daughter.

 

The compulsively readable Born to be Brad: My Life and Style, So Far, is the first memoir from reality TV show star and fashion icon Brad Goreski.  Best known as Rachel’s assistant on the Rachel Zoe Project, Goreski is immediately recognized for his colorful clothing palate, bow ties, and dark retro glasses. Here he recounts stories from his troubled childhood in Port Perry, Canada, where his sense of glamour made him the odd boy out at school. Who knew styling Barbie dolls would eventually lead to an internship at Vogue? Not only does he dish on his rise to fame, but he also offers fashion tips to readers: items every woman needs in her closet, what to wear when traveling by air, and how to pack for a weeklong vacation in ten minutes.

Doug

 
 

Heroes for All

Heroes for My DaughterHeroes for My SonBrad Meltzer is best known for his popular thrillers, but he is a renaissance man with involvement in various media platforms. Currently the host of the History Channel TV series Decoded, he co-created the television series Jack & Bobby, and wrote the DC Comics Identity Crisis superhero series. If all that isn’t enough, he has a new bestseller, a couple of movies in the pipeline, and a clothing line!

 

In Heroes for My Daughter he collects the stories of 55 extraordinary role models for girls. These varied “heroes” include Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Judy Blume, and the passengers of United Flight 93. This powerful book debuted at number ten on The New York Times’ list of bestselling advice books. Surprisingly, the companion title, Heroes for My Son, has been optioned by Adam Sandler’s film production company.  Meltzer wasn’t sure what to expect, “Here was a non-fiction [book] I collected, with Jim Henson, and Rosa Parks and Mr. Rogers in it. I did it out of pure love for my son, but how do you make a story out of that? They found an incredible story in that."

 

Meltzer also launched an apparel company that ties into these inspirational books. Tees for kids and adults feature cartoon versions of inspiring figures such as George Washington, Muhammad Ali, Lucille Ball, and Amelia Earhart.  “It’s nothing I ever thought I’d be doing,” Meltzer says. “I realized this could be a way to change the dialogue about the way people talk about heroes.” Ten percent of the profits from the sales of these shirts at Ordinary People Change the World benefit charity.

Maureen

 
 

Criminal Minds From Other Times

Deadly ValentinesDeath in the City of LightLooking for a little history to go with your true crime? Two recent titles provide thrilling accounts of historical murders. One is set in Chicago and chronicles the rise and fall of Al Capone’s chief assassin, Jack McGurn. The other is about a serial killer in World War II Paris. Both are thoroughly researched, emphasizing the mayhem and extremism prevalent in these time periods. In Deadly Valentines: The Story of Capone's Henchman "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn and Louise Rolfe, His Blonde Alibi, Jeffrey Gusfield opens with an account of the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 Chicago.  Known assassin Jack McGurn and his girlfriend Louise Rolfe are the likely suspects.  But how does a boy from an immigrant family and a middle-class Midwestern girl end up embodying the Roaring Twenties’ hallmarks of excess, liquor, and grisly murder? By tracing their lives from childhood, Gusfield draws a connection between humble beginnings and a gangster lifestyle rife with crime and corruption. 

 

David King’s Death in the City of Light follows the rise of Marcel Petiot, who was regarded as a kindly doctor of the less fortunate until multiple human body parts were found in the basement of his Paris home in 1944.  His subsequent trial quickly devolved into a media circus. The Nazi occupation and government corruption further complicated matters and added to the train wreck of judicial proceedings, leading to a frustrating and perplexing conclusion.Perhaps most fascinating about both books are the unanswered questions.  Was Louise cold-blooded, or just someone unable to live a conventional life?  How did Petiot actually kill his victims? Those who enjoy historical accounts full of drama, danger and mystery (like Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City) will find these books to be satisfying page-turners. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Hail to the Chief

Hail to the Chief

posted by:
June 4, 2012 - 6:01am

Grover Cleveland's Rubber JawThe Presidents ClubDid you know that every American president has worn glasses? Or that John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator that he kept in the White House bathtub? If you’re looking for quirky presidential trivia, try Stephen Spignesi’s Grover Cleveland’s Rubber Jaw & Other Unusual, Unexpected, Unbelievable but All-True Facts about America’s Presidents. For example, Millard Fillmore’s favorite color was fuchsia.  Ronald Reagan was claustrophobic. A man once attacked Franklin Pierce and threw a hard-boiled egg at him. This book has all of the facts that you didn’t learn in U.S.history, but should have!  Spignesi includes the good, the bad, and the just plain weird. It will appeal to presidential history buffs, as well as fans of trivia who just want to flip through the pages and have fun with history.

 

Those interested in a more serious look at the presidency should try The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity.  Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, both editors at Time magazine, explore the relationships among the last 13 presidents. The book gets its title from the informal group jokingly named by Hoover and Truman. Now, it describes the bond that exists between former presidents regardless of their different political viewpoints. Many former presidents have assisted sitting presidents by serving as advisors or in diplomatic capacities. Reagan even stepped in to teach Clinton how to salute uniformed military personnel properly, and Clinton has developed a deep friendship with George H. W. Bush. In The Presidents Club, Gibbs and Duffy explore these little known connections and the history that created them.

Beth

 
 

And DOWN the Stretch They Come

EclipseKentucky Derby DreamsDrive around Maryland’s thoroughbred horse country, and it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque scene than the mare and her foal romping in a shamrock green field. It is equally hard to imagine the carefully orchestrated breeding and the trials of their short lived careers. Just in time for this year's Triple Crown campaign, two new books take an in-depth look at these storied animals whose equine feats define the sport of kings.    

 

In his well-researched biography, Eclipse: the Horse that Changed Racing History Forever,  journalist  Nicholas Clee brings to life the greatest horse of all time and his roguish owner, Dennis O'Kelly. Clee vividly describes mid-18th century Georgian England as a gambler's paradise. In this milieu, the Irishman wheels and deals, until he has purchased the undefeated Eclipse, the freakishly fast chestnut thoroughbred whose astounding number of progeny includes this year's Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another.  How O'Kelly and his brothel-owning companion, Charlotte,  manage to reap the benefits from their chosen activities and turn a racehorse into a breeding stallion for the ages is what makes this historical narrative fun to read.  

 

Fast forward 250 years to Susan Nusser's Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions.  Nusser deftly records the behind-the-scenes pulse of one of Kentucky's elite horse breeding operations as it readies for a new crop of foals. It is an exhausting schedule of barn rounds, meetings, crises, x-rays, and runway-like parading, all in the hope of getting to the yearling sales. Nusser's prose is fast paced and heartfelt. A prime example is when she describes a mare's anguish over the death of a foal: "her wail is steady, coming in waves, one right after the other."  Making it to the finish line is never taken for granted.

 

Horse lovers and historians, including fans of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, will appreciate these revealing glimpses inside the racing world and the fragile four-legged athletes who run their hearts out.

Cynthia

 
 

Must Read TV

Imagine a world without DVRs and streaming video.  Go back to a time when half the country watched the same television shows which became mandatory water cooler conversation the next day.  Former NBC executive, Warren Littlefield brings such a world to life in Top of the Rock: The Rise and Fall of Must-See TV.  NBC was in its glory days in the 1990s with its “Must-See TV” lineup which included shows like Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, and Frasier.  To capture the essence of this heyday, Littlefield, with assistance from novelist T.R. Pearson, interviewed more than fifty actors, writers, producers, agents, and executives. The actors include Kelsey Grammer, Sean Hayes, Lisa Kudrow, and Jerry Seinfeld, but the network head honchos are represented as well.

 

Littlefield offers the perspective of an insider and the interviewees are frank when talking about both the good and the bad memories of this time. Readers who enjoyed the sitcom Friends may be surprised to hear that Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) was rejected for the role of Ross. Lisa Kudrow had originally been cast as Roz on Frasier, but was luckily for Phoebe fans, she was fired and replaced by Peri Gilpin. Before settling on the name Friends, the creators called their show "Six of One".  This entertaining, quick read is for all those who love a little show business scoop and for those who miss cozy Thursday nights at Central Perk!

Maureen