Archive for May, 2010

Legal Thrillers

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

  Plea of Insanity by Jilliane Hoffman Find this book in our catalog

Jilliane Hoffman is currently reckoned to be one of the best legal thriller writers in the country.  Linda Fairstein, award-winning author, writes, “Her insider knowledge of the criminal justice system is dazzling.”

In Plea of Insanity Julia Vacanti, a 28-year-old Miami assistant state attorney, is called in to help prosecute David Marquette, a Miami surgeon accused of brutally murdering his family.  David pleas insanity, and Julia has to prove he’s just a clever psychopath faking schizophrenia to avoid Florida’s death penalty.  For Julia the circumstances of the case hit very close to home:  she is conflicted about her feelings for her schizophrenic brother, Andrew Citro, who was convicted of the fatal stabbings of their parents when she was 13.  When Julia learns Andrew was committed to a center for the criminally insane in New York, she re-establishes contact.  Fans of  both family and courtoom drama will love this thriller!

This book is also available in our catalog as an audiobook on CDs and as a digital portable Playaway.

  Mystery Writers of America Presents the Prosecution Rests : new stories about courtrooms, criminals, and the law  edited by Linda Fairstein  Find this book in our catalog

“After the crime is over, the real drama begins. That’s what this riveting collection proves as it carries us from the Salem witch trials to Depression-era Chicago to today’s highest-stakes legal dramas. These are thrilling stories of lawyers under pressure, of criminals facing the needle, and of the heartbroken families who hope for justice and who sometimes take it into their own hands.” (catalog notes)


Russell Freedman Speaks At Library

Friday, May 28th, 2010

May 25, 2010

Russell Freedman, Newbery Medal Winning Author, was at the Abingdon Branch of Harford County Public Library on May 19th. Mr. Freedman spoke to a captive audience of over 60 people, both young and old, as he read from his latest book, The War to End All Wars: World War I. A book signing followed the presentation. Mr. Freedman is credited with having published over 45 books with his first being Teenagers Who Made History, which was published in 1961.

Mr. Freedman’s appearance was part of the The Winds and Words of War, Posters and Prints from the San Antonio Public Library exhibit that has been on display at the Bel Air and Jarrettsville branches since March 20th. The exhibit closes this Saturday, May 29th. The exhibit is free to the public. Please call the branch for exhibit hours or go to for more information.

Harford County Public Library operates eleven branches located throughout Harford County, Maryland. The library serves over 200,000 registered borrowers of all ages and has an annual circulation of almost 5,000,000.  Harford County Public Library is committed to providing access, service and information to the citizens of Harford County anytime, anywhere and creating an environment that encourages the acquisition of knowledge and the love of reading.


Photo caption #1:  Mr. Russell Freedman, Newbery Medal Winning Author, speaks to an audience of over 60 at the Abingdon Branch of the Harford County Public Library on May 21st.

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Arthur C. Clark Award for Science Fiction

Friday, May 28th, 2010

  The City and the City by China Mieville (Find this book in our catalog) recently won the Arthur C. Clarke award, the U.K.’s prestigious science fiction prize, becoming the first author ever to win three times.

This is what it says in our catalog: “”New York Times”-bestselling author Mieville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other – real or imagined.”

See our catalog for First Chapter Excerpts, and also for downloadable versions of the e-book and the audiobook.

A Spot of Tea

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Continuing the Asian theme for May, here are a couple of nonfiction books about an aspect of Asian culture that has influenced the culture of many other countries of the world.  These books are all about Tea!

  The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: a guide to enjoying the world’s best teas by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss.  Find this book in our catalog  “Did you know that tea is the most widely consumed beverage on the planet after water? Or that all of the world’s tea originates from only three varieties of a single plant? While a cup of tea may be a simple pleasure for most of us, there are a dizzying number of tastes from which to choose. And every tea, whether a delicately sweet green tea from Japan or a bracing, brisk Darjeeling black, tells a story in the cup about the land that nurtured it and the tea-making skills that transformed it.” (catalog notes)

  For All the Tea in China: how England stole the world’s favorite drink and changed history by Sarah Rose.  Find this book in our catalog  “Rose’s remarkable account follows the journey of Robert Fortune, a Scottish gardener, who was deployed by the British East India Company to steal China’s tea secrets in 1848. This thrilling narrative combines history, geography, and old-fashioned adventure.” (catalog notes)

An Early Start on Summer Reading

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Less than a week to go to Memorial Day, and Harford County Public Librarians are beginning to think of summer reading recommendations.  My colleague in the Materials office asked me to pass on these recommendations to you.  These charming new contemporary women’s fiction titles were fun and relaxing on a recent family vacation.

  Balancing Acts by Zoe Fisherman Find this book in our catalog

“Charlie seemed to have it all-beauty, brains and a high-paying Wall Street job far away from her simple Midwest upbringing. Then, in the middle of her “quarter life crisis,” she decides that the banker’s life isn’t what she wanted after all, quits her job and opens her own yoga studio in Brooklyn. But like any new business, finding customers is an uphill battle. When she hears about her college’s 10 year reunion, she straps on her best salesman smile and invades midtown-determined to drum up some business. Unexpectedly, she reconnects with three college classmates-women who, like Charlie, haven’t ended up quite where they wanted to in life. Sabine, a romance book editor, still longs to write the novel brewing inside of her. Naomi, a child of the Upper East Side, was an up-and-coming photographer and social darling, but now is a single mom who hasn’t picked up her camera in years. Bess, a California girl trying to make it in New York, dreams of being the next Christiane Amanpour, but instead finds herself writing snarky captions for a gossip mag, which is neither satisfying nor rewarding. When Charlie, who has her own past to contend with, signs them up for a weekly beginner’s yoga class, they become all too aware of the lack of balance in their lives. Each has to dig deep and fight their inner demons to reconnect with what they truly want out of life. With wit and sensitivity, debut author Zoe Fishman perfectly captures the poignancy, humour, and promise in these four women’s lives. Balancing Acts is a sincere look at what happens when you’re ten years out of college but feel 100 years from who you once were.” (catalog notes)

  Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston Find this book in our catalog

“When author Georgina Jackson, stalled after one chapter into her second book, is offered a lucrative opportunity by her agent to finish an incomplete Jane Austen manuscript, she has to face up to the fact that she has never read any Jane Austen. But she needs to have a job to stay in England and she needs money to pay her rent, so she buckles down to learn about one of England’s most famous authors and, in the process, learns about herself. A surrounding cast of charming characters (Henry, her landlord; his teenage sister, Maud; and Henry’s Polish housekeeper, Anna), all thunderstruck that Georgina has never read Austen, are eager to help her get the job done. Despite her best attempts to procrastinate, Georgina ends up with a real appreciation for Austen and a remarkable novel to call her own. Aston writes with appreciation and respect for Austen and great affection for her own characters. Austen derivatives have become their own genre, but Aston is doing something different. She’s written a witty page-turning love letter to Austen’s work.” (From the Publishers Weekly review in our catalog)

Books for Asian Pacific Heritage Month

Friday, May 21st, 2010

  “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) is celebrated in May to commemorate the contributions of people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States. Congress passed a joint Congressional Resolution in 1978 to commemorate Asian American Heritage Week during the first week of May. This date was chosen because two important anniversaries occurred during this time: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in America on May 7, 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (by many Chinese laborers) on May 10, 1869. In 1990 Congress voted to expand it from a week to a month long celebration and in May 1992, the month of May was permanently designated as  “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.” “(source: Wikipedia)

One of my all-time favorite books is Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Find this book in our catalog  In 1949, four Chinese women – drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks and “say” stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club-and forge a relationship that binds them for more than three decades. This is their story as narrated by one of their daughters, who slowly begins to uncover the mystery of the past and thus begins to understand her mother better.  I found the book to be a wonderful exploration of the complex bond between mothers and daughters.  Amy Tan’s description of the special tensions that exist between immigrant mothers and their first-generation American daughters rang very true, to me, a British immigrant with daughters.  In Amy Tan’s book the cultural difficulties are especially acute because of the language difficulties.  The book is touching and amusing, and supremely well-written.

Another novel about the Asian-American experience is Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Find this book in our catalog  The Los Angeles Times called this, “A whodunit complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence…” (see our catalog notes).  In 1954 a fisherman on San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound is found drowned, and a Japanese American is accused of his murder. In the ensuing trial it quickly becomes clear that more is at stake than murder. San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. This has been called, haunting, atmospheric and a masterpiece of suspense.

Server Updates for BlogaBook

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

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Jen’s Jewels with Ellen Block

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

We all deal with grief in our own way. For some, the thought of living life without their loved one can be debilitating, especially when it is the loss of a spouse. Others choose to celebrate the passing of a life by remembering the person in a special way. Unfortunately, it is a difficult time no matter what the circumstances. We all know that one day we will die. If only we had more time.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Ellen Block tackles this very topic in her latest release, THE LANGUAGE OF SAND. It’s the story of a young woman who is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her husband. Hoping to reconnect with him by revisiting his past, she chooses to relocate to the island where he spent his summer vacations. A poignant novel which gently reminds us of the importance of letting go in order to move forward, THE LANGUAGE OF SAND is a must-read.

As part of this interview, Bantam Books has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: Your latest endeavor, THE LANGUAGE OF SAND, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of your writing career. Best known as Brett Ellen Block, you have penned THE GRAVE OF GOD’S DAUGHTER, THE LIGHTNING RULE, as well as a book of short stories titled DESTINATION KNOWN. So that my readers have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Ellen: I should start by admitting that I never wanted a “real” job, nothing corporate, no cubical, no staff meetings, none of that. Fortunately, I discovered that I had a knack for fiction after I broke my foot during my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. I was stuck on crutches and the only class I could actually get to was Creative Writing. So I consider the break to be my break. Looking back, it was definitely “happy accident.”

I was accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop right out of college then went directly into another writing program in the UK afterward. Up until that point, my plan to buck any proper form of employment was working out just fine.

Once I was done with my second Master’s Degree, I finished a collection of stories, which was awarded the Drue Heinz Prize for Short Fiction. From there, I started work on my first novel. The rest is history, which is conveniently charted by year on and sometimes even I have to log on to see when the books I’ve written came out!

I wish I could say this whole not-having-a-traditional-profession thing was part of a grand scheme I’d hatched from the very beginning, but it was a lot of luck and hard work as well as a desire to write the best fiction I could. I still don’t think of myself as having a “real” job, even though being an author is very much a genuine occupation. Maybe that’s why I continue to enjoy it so much!

Jen: An obvious question, but one I must ask, why the subtle name change for your latest release?

Ellen: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to friends and relatives that I’m not off my rocker. In light of all the odd and unnerving things I’ve penned in past books, they had their doubts. When you write darker material, people tend to think you’re, well, dark. Anybody who knows me is well aware that couldn’t be further from the truth, so writing a novel with a lead that was much more like me – a quirky intellectual – felt right as my next move.

Since the novel was a stylistic departure from my previous works and is geared specifically toward women, I thought this would be a great opportunity to express a different side of my writing personality. Bidding adieu to the masculine sounding “Brett” and embracing the more feminine “Ellen” was akin to getting into character for the new book and I believe it helped the process.

Jen: THE LANGUAGE OF SAND reminds me of Jan Karon’s Mitford series in the sense that it has a delightful set of characters about whom I want to know more. First of all, how did you arrive at the premise?

Ellen: This is a terrible answer – I don’t actually recall how the exact premise came to me. Shameful for an author to say, I know.

The first thing I remember about the process was a desire to have a lighthouse figure prominently in the story, that and the need to build a world around it in a way that would be intriguing yet have a sense of homecoming.

Perhaps I watched too many episodes of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” as a kid, but I always thought of lighthouses as refuges, literal and metaphorical beacons for anybody who was lost. Seeing as our heroine, Abigail Harker, arrives on Chapel Isle very much a lost soul, having her live in a lighthouse was ideal.

The locale that sprang up around the lighthouse as well as the characters that inhabit the island is a patchwork of different places I’ve visited and people I know. Of course, all my friends are eager to claim which characters are based on them, but I’ll never tell!

Jen: As I began reading the novel, I was struck by the similarities of the story’s setting to Ocracoke Island, NC where I have visited. Of course, I was tickled pink when I later learned that indeed Ocracoke was your inspiration. Please share with us your ties with the island and why you chose to incorporate its charm into your fictional locale of Chapel Isle.

Ellen: I spent a few summers on Ocracoke Island when I was kid and those memories remained surprisingly vivid to me for years afterward, as if to insist they be woven into a story. Young as I was at the time, I didn’t have much direct interaction with the natives, so the fictional characters aren’t based on particular individuals who live there, something I’m sure the locals will be happy to hear.

What stuck with me about Ocracoke were mental snapshots of collecting shells at the beach, playing Bingo, the ferry ride over, the smell of the bay, the swaying movement of tall marsh grass – sight and senses that took on a life of their own in my head. That collage became Chapel Isle, my tribute to an unforgettable island that filled the mind of a girl with dreams that ultimately became something greater than the sum of their parts.

Jen: Your main character is a grieving widow named Abigail Harker who has a very unusual job, a lexicographer. What led you to select that as Abby’s professional? And for those readers not familiar with the profession, please gives us a brief job description.

Ellen: First, the definition…a lexicographer is a writer, complier or editor of a dictionary. It takes a detail-oriented, methodical, and dedicated person to do the job, which is not wholly dissimilar from being an author.

As for my interest in the profession, that’s down to my mom, who would always make me look up the definitions to words I didn’t know. That got me interested in more esoteric words. Why refer to something as “nice” when you could describe it with far more precision and flair?

Abigail thinks that using the perfect word to describe a certain situation is like having the right tool for the job. It makes life easier for her to handle. Since my responsibility is to tell a story using the right characters, setting and plot for the job, I suppose Abigail and I are coming from a common place.

Jen: Tacking onto that last question, each chapter begins with a dictionary definition of an unfamiliar (at least for me!) word. How did you go about selecting these words? And, what connection, if any, do they have with the story itself?

Ellen: Ah the definitions, they took some doing. I fell in love with a website called It’s packed with more wild and wacky words than you can imagine.

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t familiar with most of the ones that wound up in the book. I opted for unique, obscure words in the hope that readers would want to know not only what they meant but also how they related to each segment of the novel.

Every word chosen hints at what is to come in the chapter, either thematically or emotionally. Like those Word-A-Day calendars my teachers always had on their desks, I figured this would be a fun way to introduce readers to new words they could impress their friends with!

Jen: Ghosts play a key role in this book. Do you believe in them? And, how does the ghost’s presence in the lighthouse help Abby move forward as she finally leaves behind the ghosts from her past?

Ellen: I do believe in ghosts! I watch all the television programs about them too. Fascinating stuff.

Ghosts also happen to be the ideal metaphor for what Abigail experiences throughout the course of the novel. Haunted by her past, she’s a ghost of her former self when she comes to Chapel Isle. The notion that the lighthouse might be as haunted as she is mirrors Abigail’s experience and ultimately shows her that she is indeed still alive, forcing her to confront what that means for her and to her future.

Jen: Throughout the book, we are introduced to many colorful characters which make the story an endearing tale. Let’s talk about a couple of them. Merle Braithwaite and Abby are quite similar. He is the backbone of the community, and she was the backbone of her family. What does he see in Abby that makes him reach out to her?

Ellen: Merle, as well as many of the other natives, isn’t one to trust a stranger easily, but given his own troubled past, he sees himself in Abigail. Likewise, Abigail is having trouble relying on herself and her own senses – is the ghost legit or is she losing her marbles? So she must take a leap of faith, which is what Merle does too when he entrusts her with his work responsibilities. Showing solidarity with Abigail is Merle’s stamp of approval. If he accepts her, the rest of the island should as well. As with most things in life though, it’s not quite that simple.

Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your promotional plans. I love the Reading Group Guide included in the book! I am definitely going to make THE LANGUAGE OF SAND my next book club pick. Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Ellen: I’m so glad you enjoyed THE LANGUAGE OF SAND! I’m absolutely available for author phone chats. They’re a lot of fun. Readers simply have to contact me via my website or email ( to set things up!

Jen: Do you have a website? If so, please take us on a brief tour.

Ellen: My website is and it’s a great destination for readers and groups that want more information about the book, past works and tidbits about me. I’m hoping to add a page dedicated to my readers’ favorite weird and wonderful words soon.

Jen: I am most excited about the talk of a sequel. Would you be able to share with us an inside peek as to what may be on the horizon for Abby? And more importantly, when will it hit bookstores?

Ellen: I’m excited about the sequel as well! While I can’t give too much away, I will say that Abigail gets to see an entirely different side of Chapel Isle come summer when hordes of tourists descend upon her private haven and turn not only her town, but her world, upside down.

We’ll get to visit Abigail and all her island friends again some time in late 2011 or early 2012.

Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. I look forward to visiting again with my favorite friends on Chapel Isle in the near future! Best of the luck with the book!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Ellen Block. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of THE LANGUAGE OF SAND today. Better yet, how would you like to win one?

Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail at with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win!

What is the name of the main character in THE LANGUAGE OF SAND?

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with debut novelist Aidan Donnelly Rowley. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…