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Elizabeth and Michael

posted by: October 13, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover Art for Elizabeth and MichaelElizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson… a love story? Really? You may change your mind after reading Donald Bogle’s compelling bio Elizabeth and Michael: The Queen of Hollywood and the King of Pop — A Love Story. Using interviews and diaries from close friends, employees and family members, he delivers an honest, realistic portrait of these two entertainment icons.

 

To understand Taylor and Jackson’s 20 plus year relationship, Bogle begins by recounting their early years as child stars and breadwinners for their families. Both had mothers with strong religious convictions. Both knew how to be a “star.” Taylor was groomed by MGM studios while Jackson was taught by Motown founder Berry Gordy. But most importantly, both missed out on being a kid, which deeply affected their adult lives and relationships.

 

How Jackson courted Taylor to win her friendship is hilarious. He invited her to his concert, but the seats were not up to her standards, so she left. Eventually, they did meet and formed an unbreakable bond. With no fear of being exposed, they shared confidences freely — something rarely done with those outside their families. Such was Jackson’s devotion that he showered Taylor with expensive jewelry. The joke was that if he wanted her to attend an event, he presented a diamond and she would show. So he did — more than once! Tales of each other’s extravagance will amaze you — who gives someone an elephant? Elizabeth Taylor does, that’s who! But you will be most impressed with Taylor’s loyalty and devotion to Jackson. Never once did she waver in her support for Jackson, publicly denouncing the molestation accusations levelled against him as ridiculous.

 

Bogle’s bio is informative and entertaining, allowing us to go behind the curtain of these two Hollywood icons. Resisting the urge to be tawdry, he gives Taylor and Jackson the respect they deserve. Fans of Taylor, Jackson and Hollywood stories must put this book on their want-to-read list. Finally, was their relationship a love story? Check out a copy today and decide for yourself!


 
 

Samia Yusuf Omar

posted by: October 12, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover Art for Don't Tell Me You're AfraidCover Art for An Olympic DreamIn the summer of 2008, a Somali sprinter finished last in her heat in Beijing. Almost four years later in the spring of 2012, she drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Italy. Her name was Samia Yusuf Omar.

 

Giuseppe Catozzella lends his voice to Samia's story, going back to a young 8-year-old girl who longs to be an athlete in Don't Tell Me You're Afraid. Catozzella focuses on the friendship between Samia and her coach, who also happens to be a child and a Darod, named Ali. In order to train, the children go out under the cover of darkness to practice in a bullet ridden stadium. To reach the stadium, Samia and Ali must evade Al-Shabaab's twitchy child soldiers enslaved by a drug named khat. Their efforts pay off, and eventually Samia achieves a national victory. Meanwhile, the city of Mogadishu crumbles and her coach is forced out of town due to his Darod ancestry. Upon her return from Beijing, Samia is faced with the reality that without a proper diet and training she may never become the athlete she was born to become. Then Al-Shabaab strikes. Catozzella deftly conveys the energy and longing that propelled Samia to Beijing and indignity and anguish she endured on the journey.

 

Reinhard Kleist introduces us to Samia, as she fails in her quest to be one of the greatest sprinters on earth in Beijing, with his stunning illustrations in An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. Kleist conveys the deep disillusionment on Samia’s face as she realizes she must leave Somali not only to achieve her Olympic Dream but for her own safety. Fans of Kleist’s work will also enjoy his earlier graphic novel The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft.

 

Readers suffering from Olympic withdrawal can explore the lives of past Olympians by checking out Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek by Richard Askwith or Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schapp.


 
 

Cover art for The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train is in theatres now, and audiences are rediscovering the magic of Paula Hawkins’ novel. For those seeking a similar blend of mystery and suspense, our bloggers recommend these titles.

 

Linda: Like The Girl on the Train, Siracusa by Delia Ephron combines high-stakes suspense with a jaundiced look at relationships. Two married couples travel to an ancient city in Sicily in hopes of reviving their marriages — or finishing them off for good. One couple brings along their preteen daughter to add a truly unpredictable element to the unfolding disaster. As in The Girl on the Train, an assortment of secretive, self-absorbed narrators gradually unfolds this tale of a Mediterranean vacation gone horribly awry.

 

Lori: In Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon, former superstar London reporter Alex Dale is on the fast track to liver failure — her inability to ban the bottle is making a shambles of her personal and professional lives. Alex stumbles into investigating the unsolved crime of a girl who, 15 years ago, was brutally assaulted and has been living in a nursing home in a coma ever since. Can Alex bring a vicious rapist to justice while battling her own addiction?

 
Christine: Who would you trust if your memory vanished every time you went to sleep? Your husband? Your doctor? Your journal? A fast-paced thriller, Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson will engross you to the very last word. As Christine Lucas attempts to figure out the truth about her accident, her son, her marriage, you will be overwhelmed as you feel her frustration and fear as she tries to figure out who wants to harm her. But is she correct? Be prepared to feverishly read this story, stopping only when you have read the last word!


 
 

I Am Providence

posted by: October 5, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for I Am Providence Nick Mamatas manages the rare feat of making the reader feel utter disgust and laugh hysterically without having to turn a page in I Am Providence. Mamatas alternates between two narrators, an unsuccessful curmudgeon author and his platonic green-haired vegan roommate at a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island — one of whom tells their tale from the beyond after they are murdered and their face is removed. This particular disfigurement happens after it is revealed that the victim had been hired to act as a go-between in the sale of a book bound in human skin.  

 

If you are curious as to why unsuccessful authors, book dealers, green-haired vegans, a face-removing murderer and a variety of other characters are all staying in a Rhode Island hotel, the obvious answer is notorious racist and occasional horror author H.P. Lovecraft. The Summer Tentacle is an annual con of sorts for fans of the Rhode Island native and his short story "The Call of Cthulhu." To keep things interesting, wine and social anxiety fuel this crowd, best summed up when Mamatas quipped; “The crowd drank with an intensity that only comes with the combination of free alcohol, unsuccessful writers and high stress.”

 

To those out there that have never heard of Cthulhu or find Lovecraft’s work to not your taste, don’t fret about not being able to enjoy Mamatas’ tale of murderous social commentary.


 
 

The Books of Luke Cage

posted by: October 4, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Little GreenIn the homogenous world of superhero film and television, everyone expected Netflix’s Luke Cage to be exceptional, but no one could have predicted the pure unadulterated joy that is Luke’s barbershop book club discussions with Pop. Luke is the well-read hero we deserve.

 

In the comics, Luke has been a leader of the Avengers, Heroes for Hire and even married Jessica Jones, but what he hasn’t been for 30 plus years is a solo act. So to craft a show around Luke that doesn’t involve Spider-Man, Iron Fist or Jessica Jones dropping by, the creators took inspiration from the world of detective fiction. Here are some of the many books and authors referenced in the new Netflix series.

 

“Donald Goines was a street poet."

 

Pop’s favorite detective hero is Donald Goines’ character Kenyatta, “the best black hero this side of Shaft” who fights to rid the streets of drug dealers and racist cops. Criminal Partners is the first book in the series.

 

“So you’re saying Kenyatta is better than Easy Rawlins?”

 

Easy Rawlins is the humble Vietnam vet who prefers to keep a low profile and get paid under the table while solving crimes in his community. He’s the best detective novel hero period, and I’m proud to claim him as a fellow Houstonian. Little Green by Walter Mosley is the book Luke is seen reading in episode two.

 

“George Pelecanos? Boom.”

 

Pelecanos was a writer for The Wire, a show that Luke Cage shares more than a few similarities (and actors) with. Right as Rain is the first book in his Derek Strange and Terry Quinn detective series, following two detectives fighting systemic racism in the police force.

 

Elsewhere, Chester Himes, Harry Bosch and Dennis Lehane get shout outs. Which books did you spot? Let us know in the comments.


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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.


 
 

The Humorless Ladies of Border Control

posted by: September 29, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for The Humorless Ladies of Border ControlYou don’t have to delve particularly deeply into musician Franz Nicolay’s solo discography before you start to notice a couple of trends. First, Nicolay likes telling stories, and he’s good at telling them. Second, he has a deep and abiding passion for words. The lyrics of the eponymous track of 2012’s “Do the Struggle” (one of the songs that he references early in The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar) reads more like a Kerouacian beat poem than a folk-punk song. By the same token, the finished product of The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar can hardly be described as predictable.

 

More of a travel memoir than anything else, Nicolay takes great pains to avoid talking about his own music in the book, even going so far as to proclaim early on: “I’ll describe [the shows] once, then you can mentally copy and paste this into the hole I gloss over toward the end of each day.” Instead, he delivers exactly what the title of the book promises, a tour of the punk underground. There’s so little narcissism in this book that it could have just as easily been written by one of the oft-referenced communist revolutionaries rather than a Brooklyn-based songwriter. Throughout the book, Nicolay’s focus is squarely on the countryside, the cities and the people of Eastern Europe. Just as often as he references himself, he also shares the spotlight with his travelling companions and famous authors — from his ethnomusicologist/wife Maria to Dostoyevsky to the Marquis de Custine, a 19th-century French aristocrat who seems particularly close to Nicolay’s heart.

 

But amidst the (surprising) conversations with young Russian and Ukrainian punks about underground American punk bands like RVIVR or Bridge and Tunnel, and the monotonous nightly shows in unfinished basements, Nicolay and his wife find themselves passing back through Ukraine only months after Vladimir Putin’s invasion and occupation. What follows are not only some of the most touching first-hand accounts of the effects the occupation had on the people of Ukraine, but also some incredibly moving moments of self-discovery for Nicolay himself. This book doesn’t so much progress slowly as it takes its time getting to its destination, and the reader is never left wishing Nicolay would pick up the pace; he’s too good of a storyteller for that. Like his music, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control ultimately draws its strength from Nicolay’s words and rhythm. Even standing on their own merits, the facts of his adventure are almost as epic and expansive as the appendices in the back of the book. As far as travelogues go, I’ve never read better. Nicolay’s music can be found here, RVIVR and Bridge and Tunnel here and here.


 
 

The Leaving

posted by: September 28, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for The LeavingOn the front cover of The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, a quote from a bestselling author is highlighted: “You will not sleep, check your phone, or even breathe once you begin reading…” Skeptical at first, I felt those were pretty high standards to be placed directly in clear view of the reader. However, after finishing the book in less than five hours, I can say with confidence that this one that will have you hooked from the first page.

 

A tragedy occurs in a Florida beach community, and the town never fully recovers. Six kindergarten children go missing and, 11 years later, five return with no memory of where they have been. Now 16 years of age, mystery surrounds the return of the teens, and many in town question the motives behind this “miracle.”

 

Altebrando takes the readers into a kaleidoscope of interpreting memory loss through visual cues and a creative use of text. Different points of view guide us through the agonizing process of recovering memories. The words come to life and will take the reader into the minds of the main characters. As the story unfolds, you realize that the town is connected in more ways than you imagined, and that many questions are unanswered.

 

In the end, what stands out the most are the who and why, which will be gnawing at you throughout the story. If you are looking for a fast-paced teen fiction that will constantly have you on edge, go straight to the BCPL catalog and request this today. The only regret I have after reading this book is that it doesn’t have a sequel.

 


 
 

Stiletto

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.

 


 
 

The Tao of Bill Murray

posted by: September 26, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Tao of Bill MurrayLet’s be honest, you don’t need to know anything other than the title to decide if you want to read The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards.

 

Murray is, of course, the comedian who starred in such classics as Ghostbusters and Caddyshack, and later in critically acclaimed roles in Lost in Translation and Olive Kitteridge. If you’re even the most casual Bill Murray fan, you’ve probably heard a Bill Murray story. Someone sneaks up behind you on the street and covers your eyes…you turn around, and it’s Bill Murray. Or Bill Murray steals your sunglasses at a winery, or shows up at your party and washes the dishes before disappearing into the night. Basically, Bill Murray shows up randomly, does something random and often ends the encounter by whispering in your ear, “No one will ever believe you.”

 

This book collects these Bill Murray stories, from strangers, from acquaintances, from Bill Murray himself. The first section is a brief history of his upbringing, passions and start in the film business. Next, in “The Ten Principles of Bill,” amusing Bill Murray anecdotes are divided into sections according to which life principle they illustrate (“Invite yourself to the party.” “Surprise is golden. Randomness is lobster.”). Finally, the “Films of Bill Murray” is a chronological listing of his films and, of course, another opportunity to provide more fun stories.

 

Some of the anecdotes come with an implied “Don’t Try This at Home” warning. We can all strive to be more fun-loving like Bill Murray…but we can never BE Bill Murray. Sure, some of the antics would be amusing no matter who was behind them. Others — like hitting a stranger with a snowball, or walking into a stranger’s house and sitting down to breakfast — would be decidedly less charming if you are not an international film star.

 

Though this is a lighthearted read, Edwards also retells stories that paint Murray as impetuous, chronically late and difficult to work with. It’s a good reminder that even an epic folk hero like Bill Murray has his imperfections.


 
 

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