Archive for February, 2007

Joppa Evening Book Discussion Group Welcomes Members

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Joppa Evening Book Discussion Group had two great meetings in the last two months. In the month of February, we had a total of nine people. We discussed Anita Shreve’s Light on Snow in January and Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi in February. Although these books are extremely different, the group was able to find many distinguishing things about the books. Although, one member who has a love of literature, did not like A is for Alibi overall, she was able to find things she did like. The February meeting was not only a discussion of that month’s book, but other books members had recently read or want to read. The book discussion leader and members hope people will come to Joppatowne for our next Joppa Evening on March 22 at 6:30 p.m. We will be discussing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.

Joppa Discussion Leader

BlogaBook Points of Discussion

Some members of the Joppa group found Light On Snow to be more literary than A is for Alibi. Both books have a mystery, but each book has a different purpose. What would you consider it takes to make a literary mystery?

A is for Alibi is the first in a series of very successful private eye mysteries. The success of a mystery series often depends on the character of the private detective, in this case Kinsey Millhone. What do you think there is about Kinsey that has ensured reader loyalty?

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Winter Reading 2007 is winding down now. It’s probably a bit late for anyone but the most voracious reader to sign up and read 5 books before March 3, but it could be done!

Many people by now have completed the program and are looking forward to the Winter Reading receptions at Bel Air, Edgewood, Fallston, Jarrettsville, and Joppa. (See “Library Programs and Events” on our webpage for details).

When completing the program, participants have the option of turning in their reading logs and starring their favorite book. Librarians at the branches are going to make lists and displays of some of the favorite books for all to see and check out.

I thought here would be another place where we could all share some of the recommended reads from Winter Reading. It’s always fun to see what other people have liked, and you might be inspired to try something new!

For a start, here is a list 0f starred books from some of the book logs of readers at the Joppa Branch:

  • these books can be checked out from any branch of the Harford County Public Library system
  • look out for other lists very soon
  • leave a comment about your own favorite book this winter


ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CHIPS BY Darien Lee (African American fiction/Love story)

ANGRY HOUSEWIVES EATING BON BONS BY Lorna Landvik (Book clubs – fiction)

AUDACITY OF HOPE BY Barack Obama (Biography/United States – politics – philosophy)

BOOKWOMAN’S LAST FLING BY John Dunning (Mystery/ Bookselling and booksellers – fiction)

BOUNDARY BY Eric Flint (Science fiction)

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS By John Boyne (Concentration camps – juvenile fiction)
THE BRETHREN BY John Grisham (Legal story)

COOKING UP MURDER BY Miranda Bliss (Mystery)


CROSS BY James Patterson (Psychological fiction)



FREEFALL BY Kristen Heitzmann (Inspirational reading/love story)

HUNTERS BY W. E. B. Griffin (Suspense fiction)

JUDE BY Kate Morgenroth (Young adult crime fiction)

LADY OF FORTUNE BY Mary Jo Putney (Large print Regency romance)



SNIPPED IN THE BUD BY Kate Collins (Mystery)

UNLIKELY ANGEL BY Ashley Smith (Nonfiction/hostages)

PROMISE ME BY Harlan Coben (Detective and mystery story)

QUIET GAME BY Greg Iles (Legal story)

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS Series by Lemony Snicket (Youth fiction)

SHADOW DANCE BY Julie Garwood (Romantic suspense)

SIDETRACKED HOME EXECUTIVES BY Pam Young (Nonfiction/time management)

STRENGTH TO LOVE BY Martin Luther King (Sermons)

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY BY Donna Leon (Mystery/Venice)

VENDETTA BY Fern Michaels (Suspense fiction)

The Space Between Us by Thrity N. Umrigar

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Fallston Friends Evening Book Group discussed this challenging book at their December 2006 meeting. Please call the branch for more information on the group: 410-638-3003.

The Space Between Us is an examination of whether and in what circumstances the gulfs between people separated by traditions of class and gender can be narrowed down or swallowed up. Umrigar, journalist and Case Western Reserve professor, sets the book in modern day Bombay; but an interesting topic of discussion might be the spaces that exist between people wherever they might live.

The heartbreaking similarity of their lives appears for a while at least to close up the space between a wealthy Parsi widow, Sera Dubash and her hardworking domestic, Bhima. Despite class disparity, they have suffered equally the abuse of men, the loss of love, and the joys and sorrows of motherhood; however, their relationship is full of contradictions. Though Sera says she views Bhima as “one of the family” and is sponsoring Maya, Bhima’s granddaughter through college, she cannot truly shake off her ingrained class prejudice. Though Bhima takes tea with her employer, she is still not allowed to sit on the furniture and must use her own cup. Bhima is grateful for her employer’s patronage, though often resents her condescension.

A crisis occurs when Maya becomes pregnant, quits school and will not name the baby’s father. It remains to be seen as the plot unfolds whether personal connection will win out against class allegiance and gender inequality.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read about the universal lot of women, or the joys and sorrows of marriage or motherhood. Set as it is in Bombay, the book evocatively describes a complex culture very much in flux and it should appeal also to anyone who likes contemporary stories set in other lands.


Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill

Mysteries of the Middle Ages is the fifth book of the Hinges of History series, which examines the history of the Western world through known and lesser-known figures: the “gift-givers” who gave us or preserved for us some of the treasures of our civilization. See Thomas Cahill’s web site for descriptions of his other books and for a description of his eminent scholarship and his varied career in academia, journalism and publishing:

In this latest book , Cahill examines the rise of Feminism, science and art from the cults of Catholic Europe. In the High Middle Ages Europe experienced a rebirth of scholarship, art, literature, philosophy, and science leading to ideas and institutions current in Western civilization today. According to Cahill, the importance of the cult of the Virgin Mary in medieval church and life led by degrees to the 20th century rise of feminism. The Incarnation in the communion service led to the formulation of questions of reality and substance, pushing philosophers to a way of thinking that led to the methods of modern science. In the same way, artists asked themselves similar questions about the depiction of reality in their compositions.

I felt that Cahill tackles these scholarly ideas in an extremely accessible way. He uses the lives of various individuals to illustrate his points; for instance Hildegarde of Bingen, Francis of Assissi, Giotto, Abelard and Heloise. To me, each biography was fascinating and told in an engaging way that totally opened up the person to me. Cahill frequently makes the point that the medieval mind was not like ours, but he writes so as to help us understand it in human terms. In such a case, perhaps Cahill’s occasional use of 21st century slang is necessary; however, I sometimes found that a bit jarring. Also jarring is Cahill’s ocasional descent into diatribe, for instance about George Bush’s Iraq policy or the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church.

Throughout the book I felt that I was being led into looking at history through a new lens, and that delighted me, even though I felt that Cahill was sometimes too vehement in inserting his own opinions. He probably has a right! because his scholarship is formidable, and the footnotes prove that the book is very deeply researched. I was totally intrigued by the ideas presented here and swayed by Thomas Cahill’s accessible writing style. I made the resolution to try and find out what other historians have written on the subject.


The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Friday, February 9th, 2007

My colleague Rosemary e-mailed this recommendation to me yesterday after reading an advance reader’s copy:

“I read The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz and loved it! One of the most enjoyable and original books I have read in a long time. I am a fan of light mystery/humor books like the Stephanie Plum series, so it suited me well. Rosemary”

The Spellman Files is due to be published in March 2007. This clever debut mystery featuring Izzy Spellman, a 28-year-old PI who works for her parents’ San Francisco firm, also features several members of the dysfunctional Spellman clan. A reviewer in Booklist, January 2007 wrote, “Scenes showcasing the relationships among the various Spellmans are often laugh-out-loud funny.” It looks as though The Spellman Files might be the first in a series to give Janet Evanovich a run for the money!

Do you, as Rosemary does, have other authors you can recommend to go to while waiting for the next Stephanie Plum mystery to come out?


Books Add Color – Winter Reading at Harford County Public Library

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Harford County Public Library’s highly popular winter reading program is in full swing once again right now! This year the program is called, “Books Add Color.” How true; and we certainly need a bit of color at this grey time of year!

The program is intended for high school students and adults. Sign up between now and March 3. Adults read 5 books and high school students must read 3 books. Return your completed reading book log by March 3 and receive a Winter Reading journal.

For more information, click on the bright red cardinal on HCPL’s home page, or ask your local branch librarian.

Those winter reading book logs are a great resource, so don’t let them go to waste! Your fellow book-lovers would love to hear what you have been reading. There is nothing like a personal recommendation to pique someone’s interest. Just think how popular the returned book cart is in just about any public library you have ever visited.

So click and leave a comment on this posting and tell us the titles on your personal book log.

My own titles are: Indiscretion by Jude Morgan; Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn; And So Victoria by Vaughan Wilkins; The Complete Father Brown G. K. Chesterton; and Dust by Martha Grimes

The Old Way: A Story of the First People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Monday, February 5th, 2007

When Elizabeth Marshall Thomas was a young adult, her family traveled to southern Africa to study the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Based on her experiences there, she wrote The Harmless People, a book that has not been out of print since it was first published in 1959. In The Old Way, Thomas takes a fresh look at the people of the Kalahari – before the incursion of whites and other African people, before the Bushmen were forced from their old way of life into a modern and destructive world, before the end of their culture as she saw it in the 1950’s.
The Bushmen, or San, as some call them, were hunter-gatherers, who lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. As part of the ecosystem of this hot, dry land, they neither disturbed nor damaged the land, and so they lived there for tens of thousands of years. Thomas and her family, then, witnessed what was the longest surviving culture humankind has ever experienced, one of 50,000 years or more in age.

Thomas, the author of The Hidden Life of Dogs, Tribe of Tiger, Reindeer Moon, and Animal Wife, is always respectful of the people whom she is studying. As she reveals their way of life to us, she connects their strategies for survival with how all of our ancestors must have lived in those distant years of our development into the people we are today.

Reindeer Moon and Animal Wife, both novels of prehistoric times, ring with authenticity, and no wonder. Thomas based her novels on what she had observed of actual hunter-gatherer societies.

Her anthropological methods also figure into her studies of cats and dogs in Tribe of Tiger and The Hidden Life of Dogs, as she studies our “domestic” animal companions and how they fit into our lives.

Have any of you read any of Thomas’s books? If so, you may want to add to your list The Old Way: A Story of the First People.

By a Harford County Librarian

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Today I want to highlight one of the book groups that meet in branches of the Harford County Public Library. “Lite at Night – Books With a Touch of Humor” meets at the Abingdon Branch the second Monday of the month at 6:30 PM. Recently they discussed A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.

Christopher Moore is the author of the previous bestsellers Fluke and The Stupidest Angel, and current best seller, You Suck. The jacket notes call the book an, “absurdly outrageous, howlingly funny, scathingly satiric novel about a neurotic, just-widowed father of a newborn whose life takes a really weird detour.” Charlie Asher’s wife dies soon after giving birth. Charlie swears he saw an impossibly tall black man in a mint green suit standing beside Rachel as she died. After a series of spooky and terrifying things happen to him, Charlie discovers that he and the green man are Death Merchants, whose job is to gather up the souls of the newly dead before the forces of darkness get to them. A series of weirdo assistants and Underworld creatures are coopted to mind Charlie’s shop and his new baby while he goes about his task, a task leading to a final showdown with Death in Gold Rush era San Francisco.

One reviewer (Publishers Weekly 02/20/2006) wrote, “If it sounds over the top, that’s because it is-but Moore’s enthusiasm and skill make it convincing, and his affection for the cast of weirdos gives the book an unexpected poignancy.”

I would be interested to read the comments of any member of the Abingdon book group who attended the discussion of A Dirty Job. The “Lite at Night” group focuses their choice on books that are humorous or light-hearted. These kinds of book often disguise a more serious purpose. Does anyone have an opinion in the case of A Dirty Job? Would anyone else who has read the book care to comment?

Harford County Public Library has many book groups and each one of them has a different character. If you are interested in joining one, please look on the Book Groups page of our website for details.


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Along with friends in my book club, I have just finished reading this first novel by British author, Diane Setterfield. The book caused great excitement in England by the size of the advance Ms. Setterfield was paid – remarkable for an untried author. The Thirteenth Tale also topped the best seller lists in U.K. for a while.

In this gothic story of lies and family secrets, Margaret Lea, an outwardly colorless antiquarian bookseller and biographer is contacted out of the blue by Vida Winter, currently England’s most popular novelist. For fifty years, flamboyant yet dissembling Ms. Winter has succeeded with lies in completely obscuring her identity and origins. Now terminally ill, she asks Margaret to write her authorized biography and promises she will not lie to her. Margaret travels to a remote house on the Yorkshire moors to hear Ms. Winter’s story. The story that she tells is a story of madness, orphaned twins, a governess, a ruined English estate and a deadly fire. The reader, as Margaret transcribes Ms. Winter’s stories of what happened at Angelfield, perhaps during the 1900s, is drawn in to a dark tale of guilt, murder, and forbidden love. Mystery is piled on mystery, is perhaps explained, and then is complicated by further revelations.

My book club thought that the plot was too rambling and could perhaps have done with some editing. I thought that the complexity was appropriate for what one critic called an homage to the gothic genre. The book is full of references to works such as The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca. Some of my friends enjoyed these references, but others thought the book was too derivative.

I think lovers of such fevered tales will appreciate the dark and looming presence of the house and garden at Angelfield. This estate is as important to the characters as was Manderlee in Rebecca. Lovers of good writing will appreciate the beautiful language, which tends to a nineteenth century elegance.

One theme in this book which has many themes is the nature of the relationship between twins. Another important theme is the consequences that follow from keeping secrets or denying truths.

I hoped this has piqued your interest without giving too much away. I was totally engrossed by the book, and eager to see if my solutions for all the mysteries were the right ones. I heartily recommend The Thirteenth Tale.