In Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, our world is exactly as we know it. Social media is humming, fast food chains are thriving and UPS is delivering. Except there was one event that changed the course of our history — Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on his way to his inauguration. The Civil War never happened. And slavery is still the practice in four states.
The United States is part-slave, part-free, with the "Hard Four" states adhering to the old ways. Winters explores all the questions raised by this intriguing alternative history. Who benefits from the slave trade? Where do new slaves come from? The answers are told through the story of a young black man named Victor. Victor chose freedom in exchange for agreeing to work as a bounty hunter for the U.S. Marshall’s Service, the agency responsible for capturing and returning runaway slaves. While he suppresses memories of a childhood on the plantation, he works to infiltrate an abolitionist cell known as the Underground Airlines. His latest case finds him in Indianapolis, on the trail of a runaway named Jackdaw. But this case is different as he finds himself dealing with an uncommunicative boss as well as a young woman and her child who Victor cannot ignore. As his pursuit intensifies, Victor discovers secrets behind our government’s arrangement with the Hard Four — secrets that are not meant to be exposed. Victor struggles with retaining his freedom versus revealing the corrupt truth.
This blend of dystopian fiction, police procedural and alternative history results in a thrilling, quickly paced read. The premise is explosive, the story is well-constructed and the conclusion is exhilarating. Winters handles a provocative topic with sensitivity, but isn’t afraid to challenge the reader by raising thought-provoking issues throughout the novel. This one will stay with you long after the last page, as The Washington Post noted, “Winters has written a book that will make you see the world in a new light.”
What would you do if your roommate disappeared into the night? Or if a mysterious stranger showed up in your small town? Would you be curious? Would you call the police? Would you do nothing? Such is the subject matter of Mary Kubica’s latest psychological thriller, Don’t You Cry. Addictive from the very first paragraph, you won’t be able to put this book down. Everyone has secrets, and these two have more than their fair share!
Twentysomething Quinn awakens one Sunday morning to find her roommate, Esther, missing from their apartment. In disbelief, Quinn waits around for her to return home. But as the hours go by, she slowly realizes something is amiss. Why did Esther take several large ATM withdrawals days before her disappearance? Why did she place an order to change the apartment locks? Why did she never speak of her former roommate or family? Who is Esther really? Did Quinn even know her? Will she find her?
Meanwhile, another story is being told by Alex, an 18-year-old living in a northern Michigan town. Skipping college to take care of his neglectful, alcoholic father, Alex spends his days bussing tables at a local restaurant. One day, an unknown woman appears. Calling her Pearl, he obsessively follows her every move. Why is she in a summer town in the middle of fall? Where is she from? How is this connected to Esther’s disappearance?
Kubica gives just enough clues to keep you guessing and frantically turning the page. Believe me, you will become obsessed with Esther’s disappearance and Pearl’s story. Filled with surprising twists, Don’t You Cry begs to be devoured quickly. But don’t you cry when you read the last word — Kubica has written two other thrillers, The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, just waiting to be read.
A great read whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned veteran of horror fiction, Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a complex and unsettling book that will leave you with a lot of deep questions but thrilled that you came along for the ride.
The Fireman tells the tale of Harper Grayson, a school nurse who is living in New England when a plague erupts across the world. Dubbed “Dragonscale,” this parasite covers its victims in luminescent scales before eventually causing them to combust into a pyre of flames. Although infected and facing her end, Harper finds a new will to survive when she becomes pregnant, and decides that her child will survive even if she does not. She must attempt to survive the dangerous parasite as well as the groups of people who begin hunting and killing the infected to prevent its spread — a group that includes her husband.
This book has a subtle burn — a gentle build of horror that occasionally sparks into a blaze of terror but typically smolders in the background. Hill masterfully uses foreshadowing to build tension and unease, letting you know that disaster waits just ahead but leaving it agonizingly uncertain when and how it will strike. The real terror of this book, though, is not in looming villains or gory scenes, but the darkness in man. The story examines how evil can grow and live in all people, and how all it takes is circumstance to fan it into a flame. Impressively, the story also crafts a believable protagonist who maintains her positivity throughout, remaining strong despite the horrors she faces.
With his latest offering, the son has truly surpassed the father. Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, is one of the freshest and strongest voices in horror fiction. If you enjoyed The Fireman, I’d also recommend NOS4A2, an earlier work of his that also deals with a mother seeking to protect her child. I’d also recommend Stephen King’s Cell, which shares a focus on humanity trying to survive after an apocalypse.
As summer winds down, we look forward to cooler weather, pumpkin-flavored everything and fall television premiers! If you’re like me and you need to read the book before you watch it on screen, here are 10 new series premiering this television season based on books.
Hulu’s Chance, based on the book by Kem Nunn, is a psychological thriller set in San Francisco about a psychiatrist, his female patient with multiple personality disorder and her homicide detective husband.
NBC’s Emerald City is a modern reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz series featuring 20-year-old Dorothy Gale and a K9 police dog.
Fox’s The Exorcist, based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, follows a new family’s fight against demonic possession.
Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt is based on the true story of author Lynn Povich and 45 other women who sued Newsweek for sex discrimination in 1970.
Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale is based on the classic dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood.
NBC’s Midnight, Texas is a supernatural drama based on the series by Charlaine Harris — also the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books which formed the basis for HBO’s True Blood.
NBC’s Powerless is a workplace comedy about an insurance company set in the DC Comics Universe.
CW’s Riverdale is a live-action teen drama based on the characters from Archie Comics, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the children’s series by Lemony Snicket about three orphaned siblings.
ABC’s Still Star-Crossed, based on the teen novel by Melinda Taub, features the Montagues and Capulets in the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic deaths.
For the ninth consecutive year, One Maryland One Book offers Marylanders the opportunity to connect by reading the same book at the same time. A Maryland Humanities program, One Maryland One Book is a statewide event that promotes reading with discussions, programming and author tours. Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) is a proud partner in One Maryland One Book.
This year’s official selection is the critically acclaimed All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
Beginning September 1, look for free copies of All American Boys “wandering” about Baltimore County through the Wandering Books program. You may find one at a coffee shop, laundromat, park, restaurant or bus stop! From Cockeysville to Lansdowne, Owings Mills to Perry Hall and everywhere in between, look for a copy of the book wandering free. Want a clue to help? Follow BCPL on Twitter (@bcplinfo) and Facebook (bcplonline).
All American Boys was a BC Reads pick for 2016. You can read our Between the Covers blog review here.
BCPL will host discussions at branches throughout the county through September and October. Pick up a copy and join in:
- Towson Branch – Thursday, September 22 at 7 p.m.
- Pikesville Branch – Wednesday, September 28 at 7 p.m.
- Owings Mills Branch – Tuesday, October 4 at 7 p.m.
- North Point Branch – Tuesday, October 4 at 7 p.m.
- Catonsville Branch – Thursday, October 20 at 7 p.m.
The Baltimore County Public Library has been serving the citizens of Baltimore County since 1948. With 19 branches throughout Baltimore County, BCPL empowers and engages individuals for a more inclusive and connected Baltimore County community, and provides opportunities to explore, learn, create and connect. In addition to loaning books, library card holders may borrow DVDs, music, e-books and gain access to our research databases. Our 19 branches provide computer and Internet access, job search assistance and offer a multitude of daily learning programs for adults and children.
Fredrik Backman’s new novel Britt-Marie Was Here is a heartwarming story about second chances and unexpected friendships. Backman is revisiting a character we briefly encountered in his previous book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Readers may remember Britt-Marie as the annoying “Nag Bag,” but his new novel gives us the chance to get to know her a little better.
On the surface, Britt-Marie seems impossible to like. What she calls helpful and constructive criticism, the rest of the world considers passive aggressive snarking. It seems like Britt-Marie has an obsessive compulsive need to clean everything around her. This, along with her rigid adherence to schedule and her preferred way of doing things, drives everyone around her insane.
Then, at the age of 63, she does something uncharacteristic. Realizing that more of her life is behind her than ahead of her, she leaves her loveless marriage and life as homemaker. Due to the economic crisis in Sweden, the only job available to someone with virtually no work experience is in the wilting town of Borg as the community center’s caretaker.
Borg has lost most of its jobs and all of its hope. It “is a community built along a road. That's really the kindest possible thing one can say about it.” The citizens only seem to come alive when watching, playing or talking about football (or soccer, as it is known here in America). Like most people, they are not enamored with Britt-Marie upon meeting her.
But, because there simply isn’t anyone else, Britt-Marie finds herself coaching the town’s rag-tag youth team. The kids are loud, muddy and frequently irrational, but a bond is soon formed between Britt-Marie and the team. Though she knows absolutely nothing about soccer, she is superb at removing stains from uniforms. Through the team, others in town begin to take a second look at this nag bag and find that, perhaps, they were wrong about her after all.
Backman has a unique style and an unrivaled talent for creating characters we cannot imagine ever sympathizing with, then slowly revealing the wonderful people hidden beneath prickly exteriors. Readers who enjoy quirky characters and stories with all the feels will fall in love with this writer.
I’ll be honest, I had never read Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s books before, but the cover of Tailored for Trouble sold me at first glance! And the book, the first in the Happy Pants series, exceeded expectations. Sassy, sexy and funny, this romantic comedy serves up two strong-willed and dynamic characters, quirky and memorable secondary characters, a magical sugar cookie and a mother’s dying wish.
Taylor Reed was fed up with dealing with selfish, boorish CEOs in her role at a corporate recruiting company. She reached her limit with pompous, arrogant Bennett Wade and walked out on her job — after giving him a strongly worded piece of her mind. Two months later, she is struggling to get her own company, an executive training course focusing on compassion, off the ground. When Bennett Wade forces his way back into her life, she agrees to coach him, even though his handsome face and brusque demeanor are a constant annoyance.
As Bennett and Taylor travel the world on business, she begins to see a side of Bennett she never imagined, and slowly realizes that he is damaged and is trying to make amends for something in his past. As his soft side is slowly revealed, the intensity between the two grows. Pamfiloff combines skilled writing and brisk pacing to escalate the tension between Bennett and Taylor, and the reader will be rewarded with an enchanting happily-ever-after. While waiting for further installments in this charming series, readers should check out Christina Lauren, J. Kenner or Alice Clayton — all guaranteed to provide the same spicy fun!
Lisa Hanawalt’s new graphic novel Hot Dog Taste Test is a collection of pieces mostly written for the culinary magazine Lucky Peach, but as you probably guessed by the title, Hanawalt’s idea of foodie culture is more casually absurd than you’d expect.
Primarily known for co-creating and designing the characters on Bojack Horseman, Hanawalt has proven herself to be a singular cartoonist as well as a humorist. Simultaneously low-brow and fantastically clever, she comes across like a more wizened version of the kid at the back of the classroom. The one you shouldn’t call on if you don’t want her to derail the entire lecture.
Through her eyes (and her Dumb Dirty Eyes), the world is a vulgar, illogical place — and just a shade surreal. In lush watercolors, she illustrates a hot dog eating contest that also includes a “best in show” section where hot dogs are led around on leashes by their owners. She also explores millennial insecurities like aging and irresponsibility (“Wow, I’m four times as old as you!” she says to an 8-year-old.), while also totally owning the fact that if she had a time machine all of her historical research would be toilet related.
Fans of Bojack Horseman will enjoy her anthropomorphized animal characters like Tuca, Lisa’s socially anxious toucan persona who struggles to prepare dinners that are basically “bananas and ranch,” and others will enjoy her keen eye and wicked sense of humor. Just don’t take her cooking advice. You’ve been warned.
For suburbanite Ben, what starts out as a dull business trip to the Poconos rapidly becomes a horrifying ordeal of epic proportions when he decides to go for The Hike through the local woods. Pursued by a menagerie of monsters through locations found nowhere on Earth, Ben struggles to survive. As he stumbles from one nightmare into the next, he longs for a way to escape the path and return to his family. But to leave the path is to die, and Ben will have to find his way if he ever wants to make it home again.
The Hike is a bloody mash-up of genres, as if author Drew Magary threw The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland and the top 10 B horror movies of all time into a blender to see what would happen. The book is a wild ride from start to finish; once the action starts, it never really lets up. Some of the images are gory, yes, and some of the monsters are really grotesque, but Magary never lets Ben’s experiences on the path descend into the literary equivalent of torture porn. There is a purpose to what Ben is enduring and a destination he has to reach, and the quest-like feel of the narration keeps the plot from being bogged down by too much horror. The violence and heartbreak Ben endures is balanced by Ben’s deadpan humor and determination to see this journey through to the end. The inclusion of some seriously fun characters, including a talking crab, is an added bonus, and there are plenty of surprise twists awaiting Ben and the reader.
These twists make The Hike the engaging and fun read that it is, culminating in a shocking revelation right up to the last page. The Hike is a quick read, with enough bizarre world-building and action to make it perfect for any fan of shows like The Twilight Zone, video games like Limbo or podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale.
Music and history entwine in Bernice McFadden’s newest novel, The Book of Harlan, a story of one African American family spanning generations. McFadden found her inspiration for the title character of Harlan from her paternal grandfather, about whom the author says:
I never personally knew the man and neither did my father. All I had to recreate his life were a birth certificate, census schedules, a few newspaper articles and my imagination.
Emma is the cherished and respectable daughter of a Baptist minister in Macon, Georgia, until carpenter Sam Elliot sweeps her off her feet and, in the oldest story ever, Emma is pregnant. Newly married, Sam and Emma join the Great Migration of African Americans escaping the south and Jim Crow to find a better life, but leave baby Harlan behind with Emma’s parents. Landing in New York City in 1922, America’s prosperity trickles down to the Elliotts, who can finally bring their young son north with them. Harlan develops into a gifted guitarist who thrives in the Harlem Renaissance music scene and his job in a jazz band finds him touring in Paris on the eve of World War II. Hitler’s visions of extermination aren’t limited to Jews, and Harlan and his bandmate Lizard are caught up in an unimaginable nightmare.
McFadden does not sugarcoat the lives of the Elliott family, and by extension, the broader African American experience. Poverty, single motherhood, addiction, injustice and race-based prejudice cycle around again and again, making the upward mobility to which the Elliotts aspire a two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey. From the turn-of-the-century segregated south to the Newark riots of 1967, The Book of Harlan offers a sweeping view of 20th century African American life in which the constant is the unbreakable bonds of family and friends. Readers who enjoy Bernice McFadden’s perspective should also try The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.