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Morality Tale

Morality Tale

posted by:
July 23, 2012 - 7:45am

The LifeboatThe relationship between strong leadership and survival in an emergency are at the core of The Lifeboat, the debut novel by Charlotte Rogan. Speaking up, taking a stand, and following through with decisive action are usually recognized as qualities of an effective leader in a crisis situation. However, when the people you lead are adrift at sea on an overcrowded lifeboat, sometimes holding your tongue can be more effective.

 

The Lifeboat begins in a courtroom. Twenty-two-year-old Grace Winter is on trial, along with two other women, for a crime yet to be revealed. The story unfolds as Grace tells it, through alternating narratives of the current trial and her journaling of the three weeks spent in a lifeboat after the sinking of a luxury ocean liner in the Atlantic, two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Thirty-nine people are adrift in the filled-past-capacity boat, and the claustrophobic conditions only add to the mental anguish of the survivors. A power struggle between the sole crew member onboard and a strong-willed female passenger seethes beneath the surface of the group. 

 

All of the usual survival story arcs are at play here—lack of food and water, beating down of the sun, reliance on wind and weather-- but Rogan skillfully pushes these into the background. The true heart of the story is the survival of a sense of society and morality. Initially, the men take charge and make decisions for the group. As the days stretch on without rescue, the balance of power begins to shift. The women, led by the deceptively matron-like Mrs. Grant, soon take matters into their own hands. How will these actions be judged upon rescue?

 

The idea for The Lifeboat came to Rogan from an old criminal court case involving two soldiers who survived a shipwreck and found themselves floating on a plank that would only support one of them. Is it murder to ensure the survival of some rather than the probable death of all? Readers who enjoy survival stories like Jamrach’s Menagerie or psychological dramas like Room will read this in one sitting.  

  

Sam

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Of Roots and Stones

House of StoneHey America, Your Roots Are ShowingPulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid, a Middle East correspondent for The New York Times, was an Oklahoman of Lebanese descent. In 2006, faced with a crumbling marriage stateside, Shadid focused on restoring his great-grandfather’s abandoned home in the village of Marjayoun, Lebanon. His book, House of Stone, is as much of a lesson on the political and cultural history of the Ottoman empire as seen from Marjayoun as it is a chronicle of an American trying to conduct the frustrating business of home improvement with local contractors while recreating his “bayt.” A nuanced Arabic word roughly meaning home, a bayt is the place of one’s roots. Mr. Shadid’s poignant story merging his family’s past and present was published posthumously; he died of an asthma attack this past February while attempting to leave Syria on horseback. Surprisingly, especially in light of the beautifully detailed architectural descriptions of the home, the book does not include photographs.

 

Also dealing with family history but on a far lighter note is Megan Smolenyak’s Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing.  Smolenyak is a professional genealogist and chief family historian at Ancestry.com. Her clients have included the U.S. Army (finding primary next-of-kin for soldiers,) the FBI (civil rights cold case crime-solving,) the BBC (tracing family members of sailors who died on the USS Monitor), and even her own curiosity, as she sketches the family tree of Michelle Obama.  These assignments and more are covered in her latest book as she utilizes the traditional paper trail and oral interviews, supplemented by DNA testing, to solve family mysteries. Entertaining but always respectful toward her subjects, Smolenyak finds an unlikely link between Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, and debunks the myth that immigrants’ surnames were mangled at Ellis Island by uncaring clerks. Hey America, Your Roots are Showing is an enjoyable look at genealogical detective work.

 

Lori

 
 

Thriller Award Winners Announced

Spiral11/22/63Winners of the 2012 Thriller Awards were recently honored at a gala held by the International Thriller Writers. Recipients included some old favorites as well as some newcomers.

Cornell physics professor Paul McEuen won the award for Best First Novel for his smart new techno-thriller Spiral. When Nobel laureate and nanoscience expert Liam Connor is found dead at the bottom of a gorge, neither his colleague Jake nor his granddaughter Maggie believe that his death was a suicide. They begin to search for answers and find encoded messages from Liam that divulge his secret knowledge of a biological weapon called “Uzumaki” (Japanese for spiral) dating back to World War II. Jake and Maggie must join together to search for the killer and stop a deadly terrorist attack.

 

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 took the award for Best Hard Cover Novel. Jake Epping finds out that the storeroom at a local diner is a portal to 11:58 a.m. on September 9, 1958. Jake agrees to take go back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination to honor a friend’s dying wish. After going back in time, he embarks on a new life as George Amberson in a small Texas town near Dallas and falls in love with a woman named Sadie. As 11/22/63, the date in question, draws closer, Jake races to stop the assassination. Can he really change history?

 

Other honorees included fan favorites Jack Higgins, Ann Rule, and Richard North Patterson. The complete list of winners is available here.

 

Beth

 
 

Beltway Underbelly

Beltway Underbelly

posted by:
July 20, 2012 - 7:00am

The 500Matthew Quirk’s first novel, The 500, refers to the elite men and women who really control Washington D.C. and therefore the world. One man involved with these power players is Mike Ford, a young recent law school graduate. Mike was recruited while at Harvard Law School to join the Davies Group, Washington’s most powerful consulting firm. Mike’s job has him rubbing shoulders with the members of this selective circle which contrasts wildly with his upbringing spent in the realm of small-time con men.

 

As a child, Mike’s father taught him the intrinsic lessons of grifting, identifying marks, and manipulation. Mike wanted out and knew his best chance was through education. Hard work in college and law school was his ticket to the straight and narrow – or so he thought. He soon learns that crooks transcend social strata and becomes embroiled in a high stakes con game. As Mike ascends the Davies Group’s hierarchy, he gradually realizes that his employer is supporting a sinister political conspiracy. 

 

This thrilling debut offers political intrigue, fast-paced action, humor, and a likeable and strong leading man. As a former reporter for Atlantic Magazine, Quirk nails the details of the politics and setting of Washington D.C. and is being hailed as the next John Grisham. The 500 will have international appeal as it has already been translated into twenty languages and Quirk is hard at work on a sequel. Additionally, movie rights were sold just days after the book, so put your casting cap on as you read this potential future blockbuster!

 

Maureen

 
 

A Self-Made Culinarian

Yes, ChefMarcus Samuelsson has a fascinating story to tell in his refreshingly candid memoir, Yes, Chef. At its heart is food and family, guided by years of discipline and sacrifice. His lifelong quest to engage customers through their senses with a denouement of flavors has resulted in a winding culinary journey for the Ethiopian-born 42-year old. Today he sits atop the restaurant world.  

 

Samuelsson's passion began at an early age. Orphaned as a toddler, he remembers berbere, the reddish-orange spice mixture his mother sprinkled liberally on their food. Adopted by a middle class couple from Goteborg, Sweden, it was his Swedish grandmother, Helga, who encouraged her young grandson's interests. She introduced him to rustic cooking and layering of flavors. Her signature dish was a roast chicken, which she killed old-school style ("Come here, boom!").

 

The wiry, soccer-playing Samuelsson viewed all his cooking assignments as opportunities. From mopping as a kitchen boy in Sweden to restaurant stints in Switzerland and France and aboard cruise ships, Samuelsson absorbed the diversity of ethnic flavors. At age 24 he earned the position of executive chef of New York's Aquavit restaurant, and a three-star rating from The New York Times.

 

Samuelsson tells his story in an honest, retrospective manner. Growing up in a mixed race family, he didn't become aware of his black identity, and its challenges until older. He once ignored the only other black worker in a kitchen because he was worried what others would think if they were seen talking. That candor is refreshing, as is his poignant description of his return to Ethiopia. A bellwether in an industry known for ego-driven personalities, the reserved, award-winning Samuelsson is as comfortable cooking for a state dinner as he is in the kitchen of his latest New York restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem. Aspiring chefs and foodies will feel at home.

Cynthia

 
 

Murder in Tokyo

Murder in Tokyo

posted by:
July 19, 2012 - 7:01am

People Who Eat DarknessPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Perry chronicles the disappearance of hostess Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000, and the investigation that followed.  Blackman, a British citizen, had been working as a flight attendant for British Airways, but increasing debt made her consider a more lucrative career change.  Her best friend Louise had a connection to Tokyo and suggested that they join the ranks of foreign hostesses in the Roppongi district. 

 

Japanese men who have a desire to feel superior and important choose to visit hostess clubs, where tall, international women are trained to light their cigarettes, pour them drinks and keep them occupied by conversation so that their hourly rate will increase the longer they stay in the club.  A hostess can make bonuses by repeat business, or selling expensive bottles of champagne. But she must also arrange dates with the customers, at outside restaurants. Many hostesses are required to make five dates with a customer or risk losing her job. In July of 2000, Blackman made such a date. 

 

She called her friend Louise to tell her that she was going for a drive to the seaside and would be home later that evening. She called once more to let Louise know she was all right. Then she was never heard from again. It would be months before her body would be found and a suspect arrested. Her mother and father were divorced and barely speaking. She had two younger siblings wondering where she was. Many years would pass before there would be justice for Lucie Blackman.

 

Richard Lloyd Perry is the Asia editor and Tokyo bureau chief of The Times (London) and became fascinated by the case when he worked in Japan.  He wanted to pull the story together, to make Blackman into a real person and not just a sordid news headline, and with People Who Eat Darkness he has succeeded.  Thoroughly researched and very compelling, this is destined to become a true crime classic along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold  Blood

Doug

 
 

An Aching Howl

An Aching Howl

posted by:
July 17, 2012 - 6:00am

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeFragile tendrils of emotion swirl together in an attempt to mend the brokenhearted in Carol Rifka Brunt’s stirring debut, Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Set in mid-1980s New York, this coming of age story unfolds against a burgeoning AIDS epidemic and a teenager’s tender awakening to love, loss, and acceptance.

 

June Elbus is a shy, medieval history-loving fourteen-year-old who likes to dress up and retreat to the woods to escape reality. When her beloved uncle, the renowned artist Finn Weiss, dies from AIDS, June is devastated.  Her preoccupied parents prefer not to discuss the reasons he ended up with the illness. Her mother regrets her own missed opportunities at being an artist, while her father seeks simply to keep the family peace. June and her older sister, once inseparable, are now estranged. Even Finn's final gift, a portrait of June and Greta titled "Tell the Wolves I'm Home," turns out to be as complex as the sisters' relationship.

 

Vulnerable and grieving, June begins meeting secretly with her uncle's partner, Toby. Their tentative relationship, eked out of neediness and curiosity in the beginning, evolves into a heartfelt friendship that leads each to understand better the man they both loved, whether or not that love was appropriate. Soul searching never comes without revelations, and Toby and June are confronted with the reality that one never truly belongs to any one person.

 

In June's voice, Brunt lays bare her characters, including Finn, who even in death remains the catalyst for what lies ahead.  An emotionally wrought, thoughtfully rendered work that tackles the issues of the day - AIDS and forbidden relationships, Brunt's story reaches into a reservoir of understanding and compassion that is the ultimate requiem for a loved one.

 

Cynthia

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

posted by:
July 16, 2012 - 8:05am

The Song Remains the SameIn Allison Winn Scotch’s The Song Remains the Same, Nell Slattery wakes from a coma in an Iowa hospital to find that she remembers nothing about her life. She is one of only two survivors of a plane crash. Her mother, sister, husband, and best friend are there to tell her about the life she has forgotten, but Nell soon begins to think that the perfect life they tell her about isn’t real. Each of them has an agenda, and they are all telling her half-truths and rewriting her past. 

 

Nell has to choose between starting her life with a clean slate and searching for her past. She wants to believe that she can use this opportunity to reboot her life and become the new, fabulous Nell. She doesn’t want to be the tightly-wound woman whose life was filled with neutral colors and old resentments. Nell’s sister Rory gives her an iPod with a playlist called The Best of Nell Slattery, all songs that played important roles in her life. The music helps Nell catch glimmers of her memory. Eventually, her memory begins to return, and she believes that if she can find the truth about her father, a famous painter who abandoned her family to live as a recluse, she will be able to put together the pieces of her life. Nell finds that the more family secrets she unearths, the more confused she becomes.

 

The Song Remains the Same is a story of self-discovery, healing, and forgiveness. It is by turns funny and heartbreaking. Allison Winn Scotch creates a memorable character whose emotional journey will leave readers wondering if any of us ever really change. If everything that you know about your life disappeared today, could you choose to be someone new or would you inevitably be the same person you were before?

 

Beth

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The Good Wife

The Good Wife

posted by:
July 16, 2012 - 7:30am

The Cottage at Glass BeachIf you can’t be on the sandy shores this summer, take a virtual trip with Heather Barbieri as she transports readers to the magical world of Maine’s Burke’s Island in The Cottage at Glass Beach. Nora Cunningham was born on the island, but at age 5 left with her father for Boston following her mother’s disappearance. 

 

Today at 40, Nora is dealing with the fallout from her Attorney General husband’s scandalous affair which has created a media sensation. She gratefully accepts her Aunt Maire’s invitation to return to the beautiful island of her birth with her two daughters, Annie and Ella. While her aunt is happy to have her back, not all of the residents are so welcoming. The silence surrounding her mom’s disappearance creates a dark current throughout the story as Nora tries to fill in the blanks. The slow pace of the island allows Nora to gradually figure out her new life post-husband. She is able to gather pieces of the puzzle that is her past while embarking on a new romance with a mysterious shipwrecked sailor who is suffering from amnesia. 

 

Barbieri’s Burke Island is as mysterious as it is picturesque. It is rich with Gaelic roots and traditions which make it easy for the reader to accept the touches of magic sprinkled throughout. Nora is a delightful character as are the supporting cast, especially her daughters and Aunt Maire. Barbieri includes fairy tale elements mixed with real life family drama and manages to create a truly magical place and a beautifully written story.      

Maureen

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Distant Love

Distant Love

posted by:
July 13, 2012 - 8:30am

The NewlywedsThe new book by Nell Freudenberger is a quiet, understated novel about home, loss, sacrifice and love. The Newlyweds is the story of an unusual marriage in which both husband and wife attempt to find happiness in a relationship that is different than either imagined. George and Amina enter the marriage with very different assumptions, hopes and dreams.

 

George meets Amina through an online dating site, AsianEuro.com while she is a young woman, coming of age in Bangladesh and he is a fairly conventional suburban man in Rochester, New York. After beginning a friendship online and corresponding for nearly one year, they decide to marry. George goes to Bangladesh to meet his new bride. Shortly thereafter, Amina leaves her village and begins her new life in Rochester. With only a basic grasp of English, she struggles to fit in. Slowly, she begins to carve out a life for herself. She also learns a more nuanced version of English, in which she’s finally able to discern sarcasm.

 

With her unadorned prose and keen eye for detail, Freudenberger does an excellent job of describing suburban life through the lens of this young Bangladeshi woman. Life in the United States is different than Amina imagined. She sincerely wants to belong and make this new life work for her but she also mourns the loss of her home, her culture and the life she might have had in Bangladesh. Her relationship with her parents is especially difficult. She tries to both take care of them and convince them that she’s really ok, all from thousands of miles away.

 

The Newlyweds works beautifully as both an immigrant story and an unconventional, heartbreaking love story. Amina is compelling character that stays with the reader long after the last sentence has been read. The Newlyweds would be an excellent choice for fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy or Monica Ali.

 

Zeke

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