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Where Joy and Sorrow Meet

In the Shadow of the BanyanGrowing up in a wealthy Cambodian family, seven-year-old Raami enjoys a privileged life until a civil war rips from her the only existence she has ever known. In an elegant autobiographical literary debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner brings to life the 1975 Khmer Rouge capture of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and one family’s extraordinary fight to live.

 

Told through the curious, fearful eyes of a young girl, Ratner’s story is more than the atrocities of revolution. Rather, it is about not losing faith in life’s beauty and goodness. With Raami’s tender, lyrical voice, the reader is introduced to pre-revolution Cambodia, as well as the new reality of forced labor and other unspeakable horrors. It’s a confusing world where being intelligent can mean death. Silence is the key to survival, and family members become lost. Before they know it, Raami, her beautiful mother and younger sister are forced into a peasant’s life. Raami becomes "koan neak srae," a child of these paddies. Her solace is remembering stories told to her by her stoic Sisowath prince father, who once said he writes because "words give me wings."  

 

Rattner's prose is as mellifluous as the Mekong River that Raami longs to see. Rich with similes, Rattner's images are as magical and lovely as they are harsh. In their fullness, the reader sees a Cambodia that is much more than a war-torn landscape and heartbreaking characters who reflect the human tragedy. A small child when the Khmer Rouge took over her country, Ratner strives to honor the lives lost during the genocides. "Sometimes we, like little fishes, are swept up in these big and powerful currents,” Raami's father tells her. Rattner's personal story describes their journey.

 

 

Cynthia

 
 

Murders Old and New

Murders Old and New

posted by:
August 10, 2012 - 8:00am

Age of DoubtThe Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri is the latest mystery novel involving Sicilian detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano. There is a heavy rain, and the inspector is making his way to work when he comes across a young woman whose car is about to become submerged in water.  He rescues her and takes her home to dry off, and she tells him a story of a wealthy aunt, a luxury yacht and a speedboat that is docked in the port of Vigata. Soon after, the owner of the yacht calls the police as a dinghy has been discovered carrying a disfigured corpse. Montalbano heads to the scene and must discover the identity of the unknown man and if there is any connection between him and the crew of the yacht. He remembers the mysterious woman, but when he tries to locate her, he finds that she has mysteriously vanished. Told with a wry sense of humor, the reader will definitely enjoy Montalbano’s quirky style, his passion for Sicilian food and his romantic endeavors. He often uses non-traditional methods in solving the case, and there is enough action and suspense to keep the reader guessing.

 

In the novel, Camilleri also pays homage to the classic mystery writer Georges Simenon who published nearly 200 novels in his lifetime. Inspector Jules Maigret was his most famous character, and in Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard, Maigret must tackle the case of a man who was stabbed to death in an alley, but his wife insists that the shoes and tie he was wearing at the time of his death could not be his. Camilleri writes in a similar style to Simenon, the novels are light and breezy and make an interesting diversion featuring an exotic locale.

 

If you are in the mood for something new or wish to return to a classic tale, these mysteries would be perfect for the dog days of summer.

 

Doug

 
 

A Feast of Knowledge

A Feast of Knowledge

posted by:
August 9, 2012 - 7:03am

The Cookbook LibraryNowadays it seems that every day a new cookbook is published, filled with gleaming pictures of succulent dishes and step-by-step recipes for tantalizing sweets. But where did the idea of the cookbook come from? And when? Anne Willan, founder of the La Varenne Cooking School and cookbook author, with help from her book collecting husband Mark Cherniavsky, tackle these and similar questions in The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook. Willan intelligently explores the evolution of the European and American cookbook as cooking and the culinary arts blossomed over the course of the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries.

 

Willan draws most of her information and recipes from her and her husband’s personal library of antiquarian cookbooks, and the text is studded with captivating illustrations and woodblock prints from their collection. Each chapter encapsulates a century and contains first a history of the cookbooks and cuisine of the time and then is followed by a selection of recipes that have been reworked for a modern kitchen. These recipes give the reader a sense of reaching backward in time to explore dishes that are both foreign and strangely familiar. Recipes vary widely in difficulty from a very simple pork loin roast from the fifteenth century to the tremendous Yorkshire Christmas Pie of Five Birds from the eighteenth century. But perhaps the most intriguing portions of the book are the inset articles that are sprinkled throughout each chapter. These short sections feature fascinating and often quirky themes, like the menus for the court of Mary Queen of Scots, a history of ice as a cooking ingredient, and how to set an elaborate eighteenth century table. Each vignette tangentially relates to the larger chapter that frames it and contains interesting factoids and trivia. 

 

Part cookbook, part culinary history, part history of the book, The Cookbook Library is as accessible as it is entertaining. You don't have to be a scholar to get some serious enjoyment from this unique read.  Cookbook enthusiasts and history buffs should definitely add this title to their to-be-read list.

Rachael

 
 

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

 
 

Take a Moment

Take a Moment

posted by:
August 6, 2012 - 9:01am

WaitFrank Partnoy’s Wait: the Art and Science of Delay is a fascinating look into the various ways decisions are made. According to the author, the crux of delay is not only in deciding what we should do or how it should be done, but as importantly, when. This provides the thesis of this groundbreaking look into the timing of our decisions.

 

Partnoy frames the studies by first looking at decisions that must be made in a split-second, and as the book goes on, he looks at decisions that take longer and longer to make--some that could be termed procrastinations. Starting with athletes who must perform in what he calls “superfast sports”, the author breaks down the manner in which baseball and tennis players must react to a pitch or serve. These decisions are made in a matter of milliseconds. As fast as a tennis serve is hit, the returner’s preconscious skills kick in, combining visual and muscle acuity. The player who is able to wait the longest and still effectively return the serve has the greatest chance of success.

 

The decision-making of animals is also discussed. It was long thought that only humans could make future decisions. But recent studies have shown that many animals, including dogs, pigeons, monkeys, and rats have all shown that considering the future is within their abilities. Retaining a small bit of food knowing that they can trade it in for more in the future, storing food where it will be found later, and building tools not instantly needed are examples of how animals are aware of delay, and use it to their benefit. Wait is a thought-provoking yet accessible read, and is certain to be of interest to fans of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Dan Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.    

Todd

 
 

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

posted by:
August 6, 2012 - 8:30am

Just Say YesWallflower in BloomLove and reality television collide in two new breezy summer offerings from proven favorites in the world of chick lit. Be sure to pack these fun novels with the sunscreen and hat when heading to the beach or poolside!

 

Phillipa Ashley introduces us to Lucy Gibson in Just Say Yes. Lucy’s dates with Nick Laurentis have been mostly limited to the bedroom because the majority of his free time is spent as a competitor on a British reality television show. After his victory on the show, he proposes to Lucy in front of the 10 million people watching the drama unfold. Lucy is overwhelmed and rejects the proposal.  Instantly, she is public enemy number one and paparazzi prey. Lucy heads to the seaside and a friend’s cabin in an effort to escape the media firestorm. Here she meets handsome Josh, owner of nearby cabins. Josh is unaware of Lucy’s true identify and the two are instantly attracted to each other. But what about Josh’s girlfriend? And what will Josh do when he finds out who she really is?  

 

Claire Cook’s heroine Deirdre Griffin also travels to the world of reality television in Wallflower in Bloom. Deirdre has always been the unnoticed member of her family and until now she has settled for that role.  But when her brother/boss demands more of her time, she finally quits as his personal assistant.  Unfortunately, Deirdre also finds out that her boyfriend has a pregnant girlfriend on the side, and he plans to put a ring on that woman’s finger instead of Deirdre’s. What’s a wallflower to do?  Why compete on Dancing with the Stars of course!  Following Deirdre’s days in the spotlight and her humorous journey toward self-discovery is a perfect way to spend a summer day.

 

 

Maureen

 
 

A Modern Catch-22

A Modern Catch-22

posted by:
August 3, 2012 - 9:00am

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBen Fountain’s new book, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a deeply personal novel about one young man’s experience as a soldier in Iraq and his subsequent visit home in which he tries to make sense of his own life and country. The novel features Billy Lynn and his accompanying Bravo Squad soldiers as they attend a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys game. The book covers this single day, with occasional flashbacks to Billy’s home life and his military life as a soldier in Iraq. Members of the Bravo Squad are being hailed as heroes after a harrowing firefight with Iraqi insurgents. They’ve been invited to the game, with a special halftime show in their honor, complete with a performance from Beyoncé. The entire story is told from inside Billy Lynn’s head. It is a deeply personal account that exposes the incredible disconnect between a soldier’s life in the Iraq war and life in the country he returns to. Fountain brilliantly captures elements of American culture that take on an absurd, grotesque quality when seen through this uniquely cross-cultural lens.

 

Fountain has written a book that is as much about family, grief, media, consumerism, sex and politics as it is about war. It has been hailed as “one of the most important books of the decade….as close to the Great American Novel as anyone is likely to come these days.” Just published in May of this year, it is quickly being considered one of the best novels written about the Iraq War. Billy Lynn is often compared to another classic war novel, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Both books depict the effect war has on individual soldiers and both are darkly humorous takes on modern American culture and military life.

 

Fountain successfully takes on huge targets: the Bush years, the NFL, the Iraq war and American consumerism. In lesser hands, a book of this nature would feel heavy-handed and one-sided. Luckily for us, Ben Fountain writes like a dream. He is one of those rare writers who can write with both immediate urgency and nuance. Like the best satirists, he is able to inspire dark humor, sympathy, heartbreak and anger, all in equal measure. In the end, Fountain’s real strength is Billy. Readers will cheer, laugh and weep for Billy Lynn, a nineteen-year-old soldier who has seen and done more than most of us could ever fathom.

 

 

Zeke

categories:

 
 

Regency Fun with Two Nerdy History Girls

Scandal Wears SatinWhen You Wish Upon a DukeRomance writing legend Loretta Chase brings readers Scandal Wears Satin, the second novel in her Dressmakers series. Sophy Noirot’s family’s dressmaking business is suffering. Her sister recently caused a scandal by marrying a duke, and the mother of his former flame has decided to take her revenge by having the elite of society boycott Maison Noirot. Sophy, the family’s born salesperson/shark, must find a way to use the scandal to her advantage and bring the business back from the brink of disaster. Always resourceful, Sophy devises a plan that hinges on Lady Clara, her best customer, marrying well. When Clara runs away, Sophy steps in to help the girl’s brother the Earl of Longmore, a rake who Sophy has always considered dimwitted, find her. Sophy and Longmore fight their attraction while trying to rescue Clara. Chase has a legion of fans for a reason. Her steamy romance and excellent storytelling make her a must-read for historical romance fans.

 

Isabella Bradford, a pseudonym of historical fiction author Susan Holloway Scott, has created a new series follows the three unruly Wylder sisters who were raised in the country but are now joining London society. The series begins with When You Wish upon a Duke. Lady Charlotte Wylder is betrothed to the Duke of Marchbourne. When they finally meet, there is an instant attraction between them. Charlotte is not what March expected, and the two of them struggle as they fall in love and find their places in their marriage. When You Wish upon a Duke will leave readers anxiously awaiting the rest of the series!

 

When they are not writing fiction, both of these authors share their love of history on Two Nerdy History Girls, a blog that features all things Regency. Readers who want to know more about the historical details of the places, clothing, and society of Regency England will be delighted by their well-researched posts.

 

 

Beth

categories:

 
 

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams

posted by:
August 2, 2012 - 9:01am

Dream TeamIn 1992, the United States assembled an Olympic basketball team of NBA stars and created what was arguably the greatest team ever in any sport. On the twentieth anniversary of the Barcelona Olympics, and just in time for the London Games, Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum examines this legendary team and their place in history in Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever

 

McCallum had a front-row seat for the spectacle and covered the team from selection to medal ceremony. He was close to the players, and he hit the links, played cards, and drank with this disparate group of superstars. The personalities were huge, but the team put aside ego and worked together to create magic. The anecdotes from ’92 are illuminated by the contemporary interviews with each of the players. One of the most riveting stories is the play-by-play narration of the legendary intra-squad scrimmage that pitted the Dream Teamers against one another. This pre-Olympics’ contest was perhaps the most competitive game played, remembered as the greatest pickup game ever with the best display of trash talk in history.   

 

This amazing team was responsible for creating a cultural phenomenon that helped make basketball a global sport and the NBA an international brand.  Today international stars are plentiful in the NBA and many of them were inspired to play because of the Dream Team’s spirit and competiveness. This fast-paced narrative captures a remarkable sporting time and vividly describes a group of athletes who joined forces on an international stage, outperformed the hype, and changed the future of their sport.  

Maureen

 
 

Miscarriage of Justice

Miscarriage of Justice

posted by:
August 2, 2012 - 8:01am

Anatomy of InjusticeA rush to judgment was all it took to set in motion an unjust arrest, trial and imprisonment. In Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, Raymond Bonner walks readers through a little-known crime and its subsequent investigation which was marred by police blunders and mismanagement of the crime scene. Further, poor legal representation prevented anything close to a fair trial for the suspect.

 

In 1982, an elderly white woman in Greenwood, South Carolina was found brutally murdered in her home. The man eventually arrested and convicted for the crime was low-income and African-American. His only connections to the house were a single fingerprint and a few checks from the owner for maintenance work. Yet prosecutors persisted and Edward Lee Elmore was tried, convicted, and served 30 years in prison. Twenty-seven of those years were spent on death row.

 

The case is meticulously researched by Bonner, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Investigation of the crime scene did not follow official procedures, and Elmore was represented by lawyers who did a shoddy job at best. It was not until 11 years later that Diana Holt, a lawyer working with the disenfranchised, took on his case. Her persistence eventually led to the overturning of Elmore’s death sentence. But it wasn’t until March 2012, just after this book was published, that he was actually released from prison. Anatomy of Injustice is as much a saga of an unsolved case as it is a look at what goes wrong when the justice system is compromised by politics, inefficient lawyers, and a desire to solve a crime at the cost of a fair investigation. A fascinating true crime read, it will also appeal to anyone interested in human rights and the legal process in the United States.

Melanie