Archive for December, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Rachel Simon wrote the memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister, which was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 2005. She speaks on the subject of disabilites & her book won awards for its positive treatment of people with disabilities. Simon has also had other works adapted for radio & television. Her novel, The Story of Beautiful Girl (Find this book in our catalog), follows the lives of two people who have been incarcerated in a “school” for the disabled & mentally challenged. It is set in the 1960′s when such places were poorly run & the inmates often abandoned by their families. Homan, a deaf African American helps his friend, Lynnie, escape from the school when he discovers she is pregnant. She has the child while they are on the run. Seeking shelter they knock on the door of an older lady called Martha. It is not long though before staff from the school are hammering at Martha’s door, looking for the runaways. Lynnie is caught, Homan escapes, but Martha is able to hide the baby. The story then follows the lives of these three characters & the baby that connects them. Simon succeeds in writing a story of love & loyalty that transcends time, while shedding light on the subject of mental disability. Issues of discrimination, violence, hardship, are countered by abiding love & hope. Though the ending seems too contrived & Homan & Lynnie change quite amazingly before the end, this is certainly a recommended read, & one that will give you pause for thought.  

For more information about Rachel Simon & her writing go to

posted by Julia

New York Times Best 10 Books of 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The New York Times has released the “10 best books of 2011″

  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

“At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big-league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.”–from publisher’s description.

  11/22/63 by Stephen King

“On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? The author’s new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.”

  Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

“Twelve year old Ava must travel into the Underworld part of the swamp in order to save her family’s dynasty of Bigtree alligator wrestling. This novel takes us to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine. The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator wrestling theme park, formerly no. 1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness… Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, the author has written a novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking.”

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

“Adopted by unrepentant hippies, Jude gets by in small-town Vermont by doing drugs—until his best friend dies of an overdose. He ends up in New York’s East Village, where he discovers straight edge, a movement that favors punk rock while opposing sex, drugs, and meat eating.”

  The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

“Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, young physician Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man would go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.”

  Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

“Essayist Christopher Hitchens ruminates on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men, the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard, the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell, the persistent agonies of anti-Semitism and jihad, the enduring relevance of Karl Marx, and how politics justifies itself by culture–and how the latter prompts the former.”

The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son by Ian Brown

“A father’s candid, heart-wrenching account of raising, loving and trying to connect with and gain insight into his severely disabled son.”

  Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

“An authoritative biography of Malcolm X draws on new research to trace his life from his troubled youth through his involvement in the Nation of Islam, his activism in the world of Black Nationalism, and his assassination.”

  Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

“Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities and also the faults and biases of fast thinking, and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on peoples’ thoughts and choices.”

  A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman

“Presents a history of the role of British citizens in the American Civil War that offers insight into the interdependencies of both nations and how the Union worked to block diplomatic relations between England and the Confederacy.”


The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

  Very often when a bestseller comes out, we at Harford County Public Library are able to order the audiobook for simutaneous release with the book.  The Buddha in the Attic (Find the audiobook in our catalog) is just such a case in point.

The audiobook is read by Samantha Quan and Carrington MacDuffie.  This is the summary from our catalog: “In six unforgettable, incantatory sections, the novel traces their new lives as “picture brides”: the arduous voyage by boat, where the girls trade photos of their husbands and imagine uncertain futures in an unknown land … their arrival in San Francisco and the tremulous first nights with their new husbands, backbreaking toil as migrant workers in the fields and in the homes of white women … the struggle to learn a new language and culture, giving birth and raising children who come to reject their heritage, and, finally, the arrival of war, and the agonizing prospect of their internment.”

Click here to listen to Julie Otsuka reading from The Buddha in the Attic.



Then Again by Diane Keaton

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

  Just arrived in Harford County Public Library is Diane Keaton’s autobiography, Then Again (Find this book in our catalog).  In her book the award-winning actress documents her rise from an everyday girl to an acclaimed performer while exploring her defining relationship with her mother and how their shared and separate dreams influenced their experiences.  To write about herself, Keaton realized she had to write about her mother and how their bond came to define both their lives. Throughout her life, Dorothy Keaton kept 85 journals–literally thousands of pages–in which she wrote about her marriage, her children, and, most probingly, about herself. More than just the autobiography of a legendary actress, “Then Again” is a book about a very American family with very American dreams.

Click here to see a YouTube trailer with Diane speaking about what it was like writing the book.

Click here for a 3 minute video of Diane Keaton discussing her book.


Buried Secrets

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Here are some intriguing stories of buried secrets and the mysteries surrounding them. Click on a link to go to a title in the library catalog.

  In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck

Summary: “In 1906, Doctor Charles H. Gilbert, a Stanford professor of marine biology discovers some ancient jade artifacts on California’s Monterey Peninsula. The existence of these sacred stones, if authenticated, would indicate a very early Asian presence in the New World, an idea that conflicts with modern beliefs. When the Chinese fishing village where the artifacts were discovered is completely burned to the ground, there are many conflicting opinions about the proper fate of these artifacts. Eventually, a wealthy businessman agrees to pay for the stones to be transported back to China — but a tragic explosion on the boat occurs and the relics are lost at sea, until nearly a hundred years later when two young scholars join forces and attempt to locate the sunken treasure.”

  The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

Summary: “Ruth Young lives in San Francisco with her longtime partner and his teen-age daughters. Her father died when she was an infant, leaving her mother, Chinese-born LuLing, to raise her. Now LuLing has senile dementia, and Ruth urgently wants to find out the real story of her mother’s upbringing. The discovery of LuLing’s handwritten memoir helps Ruth make sense of her mother’s stories and actions, allowing her a better sense of her own actions and relationships.”

  Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

Summary: “My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal, part pirate. Orphaned and anchorless, Silver is taken in by blind Mr. Pew, the mysterious and miraculously old keeper of the Cape Wrath lighthouse. Pew tells Silver ancient tales of longing and rootlessness, of journeys that move through place and time, of passion and betrayal. His stories center on Babel Dark, a local nineteenth-century clergyman who lived two lives: a public one mired in darkness and a private one bathed in a beacon of light. Pew’s stories are, for Silver, a map through her own particular darkness, into her own story and, finally, into love. With Lighthousekeeping, Winterson begins a new cycle and a return to the lyrical intimacy of her earliest work. One of the most original and extraordinary writers of her generation, Winterson has created a modern fable about the transformative power of storytelling.”

  Once on a Moonless Night by Sijie Dai

Summary: “When Puyi, the last emperor, was exiled to Manchuria in the early 1930s, it is said that he carried an eight-hundred-year-old silk scroll inscribed with a lost sutra composed by the Buddha. Eventually the scroll would be sold illicitly to an eccentric French linguist named Paul d’Ampere, in a transaction that would land him in prison, where he would devote his life to studying the ineffably beautiful ancient language of the forgotten text. Our unnamed narrator, a Western student in China in the 1970s, hears this story from the greengrocer Tumchooq–his name the same as that of the language in which the scroll is written–who has recently returned from three years of reeducation. She will come again and again to Tumchooq’s shop near the gates of the Forbidden City, drawn by the young man and his stories of an estranged father. But when d’Ampere is killed in prison, Tumchooq disappears, abandoning the narrator, now pregnant with his child. And it is she, going in search of her lost love, who will at last find the missing scroll and discover the truth of the Buddha’s lesson that begins “Once on a moonless night . . .” in this story that carries us across the breadth of China’s past, the myth and the reality.”

  The Rosetta Key by William Dietrich

Summary: “Surviving murderous thieves, a nerve-racking sea voyage, and the deadly sands of Egypt with Napoleon’s army, American adventurer Ethan Gage solved a five-thousand-year-old riddle with the help of a mysterious medallion. But the danger is only beginning. . . .Gage finds himself hurled into the Holy Land in dogged pursuit of an ancient Egyptian scroll imbued with magic, even as Bonaparte launches his 1799 invasion of Israel, which will climax at the epic siege of Acre. Pursuing Napoleon to France, where the general hopes ancient secrets will catapult him to power, the wily and inventive Gage faces old enemies with unlikely new friends, and must use wit, humor, derring-do, and an archaeological key to prevent dark powers from seizing control of the world.Entertaining and vividly evocative, The Rosetta Key is William Dietrich at his fast-paced, cliff-hanger best. For lovers of stirring historical adventure laden with intriguing mystery and puzzles galore, The Rosetta Key is a terrific thrill ride not to be missed.”


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Monday, December 19th, 2011

  What a complicated man but what an artist; Steve Jobs!  Anyone who has played with an iphone, ipad, iTunes, or Mac should stop for a moment and think about the design of these items.  Then think of the designer.  Steve Jobs tried to create something beautiful yet simple to use and something we also would find we couldn’t live without.  But along the way he made enemies, was difficult to work with, and had a callous side to him that even showed up in his family relationships.  Walter Isaacson delves deep into Job’s life both on and off the public stage in his book Steve Jobs (Find this book in our catalog).  Reading the book you will find: the flawed hero, the noble quest, and we know how it ends.  If one has time, please also read his sister, Mona Simpson’s, memorial to her brother.  Quite lovely.  It was published in the New York Times 10/30/2011.

Jennifer F.

Mystery Writers of America Awards – 2011 Grand Master

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The Mystery Writers of America has chosen Martha Grimes as this year’s Grand Master, an award that represents “the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing” and was established “to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.”

 The award will be presented at the Edgar Awards Banquet on April 26, 2012.

  You can find Martha Grimes’ latest mystery, Fadeaway Girl in our catalog,  together with a plot summary as follows:  “In this suspenseful sequel to “Belle Ruin,” Emma Graham continues her investigation into the disappearance of the Slade baby from the Belle Ruin Hotel more than 20 years before. The sudden appearance in town of the baby’s father makes her even more determined to learn the truth.”

As well as for her stand-alone titles,  over the years Martha Grimes has garnered accolades for her Richard Jury mysteries.  This quirky series,  featuring a partnership between Jury, a Scotland Yard detective and the eccentric denizens of the Jack and Hammer public house,  uses as its titles the names of English pubs.  Despite their amusing eccentricities these books address serious themes of evil.  As in Fadeaway Girl, the theme is often children in danger or abused.

The Horse You Came in On, a title in this series from 1993, in departing slightly from the formula may be of particular interest to readers in the Baltimore area.  Richard Jury receives a telephone call about a sudden death on American soil.   What can the death possibly have to do with an English police superintendent who also happens to be on holiday?  When the victim turns out to be British by birth, however, and to have a distant connection with Jury’s old acquaintance Lady Cray, Jury reluctantly pries himself loose from his pint at the Jack and Hammer and goes to America.  He ends up in Baltimore, at The Horse You Came in On in Fell’s Point, where he spends many hours mulling over the case.  This time the pub named in the title is not English!



Books to Movies – Loosely

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

The movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, loosely based on Arthur Conan Doyle classic detective tales, opens this Friday, December 16 starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Jared Harris.

Many book authors have also taken the character of Sherlock Holmes and elaborated and extended the adventures of this mythic and iconic Great Detective.  Sample these from Harford County Public Library:

  The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are summoned to the aid of Queen Victoria in Scotland by a telegram from Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, a royal advisor. Rushed northward on a royal train-and nearly murdered themselves en route-the pair are soon joined by Mycroft, and learn of the brutal killings of two of the Queen’s servants, a renowned architect and his foreman, both of whom had been working on the renovation of the famous and forbidding Royal Palace of Holyrood, in Edinburgh. Mycroft has enlisted his brother to help solve the murders that may be key elements of a much more elaborate and pernicious plot on the Queen’s life. But the circumstances of the two victims’ deaths also call to Holmes’ mind the terrible murder-in Holyrood-of “The Italian Secretary,” David Rizzio. Only Rizzio, a music teacher and confidante of Mary, Queen of Scots, was murdered three centuries ago. Holmes proceeds to alarm Watson with the announcement that the Italian Secretary’s vengeful spirit may have taken the lives of the two men as punishment for disturbing the scene of his assassination. Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Caleb Carr’s brilliant new offering takes the Conan Doyle tradition to remarkable new heights with this spellbinding tale.”

  The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “In a case that will push their relationship to the breaking point, Mary Russell must help reverse the greatest failure of her legendary husband’s storied past–a painful and personal defeat that still has the power to sting…this time fatally. For Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, returning to the Sussex coast after seven months abroad was especially sweet. There was even a mystery to solve–the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of bees from one of Holmes’s beloved hives. But the anticipated sweetness of their homecoming is quickly tempered by a galling memory from her husband’s past. Mary had met Damian Adler only once before, when the promising surrealist painter had been charged with–and exonerated from–murder. Now the talented and troubled young man was enlisting their help again, this time in a desperate search for his missing wife and child. When it comes to communal behavior, Russell has often observed that there are many kinds of madness. And before this case yields its shattering solution, she’ll come into dangerous contact with a fair number of them. From suicides at Stonehenge to a bizarre religious cult, from the demimonde of the Café Royal at the heart of Bohemian London to the dark secrets of a young woman’s past on the streets of Shanghai, Russell will find herself on the trail of a killer more dangerous than any she’s ever faced–a killer Sherlock Holmes himself may be protecting for reasons near and dear to his heart.” The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first in King’s series about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, though all the books may be read alone.

  Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “One of Britain’s premier royal biographers pens the first in a series of fiendishly clever and stylish historical murder mysteries Lovers of historical mystery will relish this chilling Victorian tale based on real events and cloaked in authenticity. Best of all, it casts British literature’s most fascinating and controversial figure as the lead sleuth. A young artist’s model has been murdered, and legendary wit Oscar Wilde enlists his friends Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Sherard to help him investigate. But when they arrive at the scene of the crime they find no sign of the gruesome killing — save one small spatter of blood, high on the wall. Set in London, Paris, Oxford, and Edinburgh at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, here is a gripping eyewitness account of Wilde’s secret involvement in the curious case of Billy Wood, a young man whose brutal murder served as the inspiration for The Picture of Dorian Gray . Told by Wilde’s contemporary — poet Robert Sherard — this novel provides a fascinating and evocative portrait of the great playwright and his own “consulting detective,” Sherlock Holmes creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.”

  The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson (Find in our catalog)

Summary: “First in a spectacular new series about two brother lawyers who lease offices on London’s Baker Street and begin receiving mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes In Los Angeles, a geological surveyor maps out a proposed subway route – and then goes missing. His eight-year-old daughter, in her desperation, turns to the one person she thinks might help – she writes a letter to Sherlock Holmes. That letter creates an uproar at 221b Baker Street, which now houses the law offices of attorney and man about town Reggie Heath and his hapless brother, Nigel. Instead of filing the letter like he’s supposed to, Nigel decides to investigate. Soon he’s flying off to Los Angeles, inconsiderately leaving a very dead body on the floor in his office. Big brother Reggie follows Nigel to California, as does Reggie’s sometime lover, Laura – a quick-witted stage actress who’s captured the hearts of both brothers. When Nigel is arrested, Reggie must use all his wits to solve a case that Sherlock Holmes would have savored and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans will adore.”


More Men’s Fiction

Monday, December 12th, 2011

  They’re Watching by Gregg Hurwitz

Summary: “Patrick Davis is a man with troubles. First his Hollywood dreams crumble and then his storybook marriage hits a snag. Now, DVDs start being delivered to his house–DVDs which show that someone is watching him and his wife, that the two of them are being stalked and recorded by cameras hidden in their house. Then the e-mails start, and someone offers to fix everything, to take the mess his life has become and make it all right. Patrick figures it’s the offer of a lifetime. But Patrick couldn’t be more wrong. With every step he falls deeper into a web of intrigue that threatens everything he values in this world. Before he knows it, he’s in and in deep–and his only escape is to outwit and outplay his unseen opponents at their own game.”

  The Marks of Cain by Tom Knox

Summary: “When David Martinez, a young lawyer, receives an ancient map from his dying grandfather, the mysteries of his past begin to open up before him. The map leads David into the heart of the dangerous Basque mountains, where a genetic curse lies buried and a frightening secret about the Western world’s past is hidden. Meanwhile, London journalist Simon Quinn may have found his big break. A wealthy, elderly woman has been murdered in the most horrific fashion, and another homicide soon follows. Both victims came from villages in the Basque region, both were interred at a top-secret Nazi camp, both have been silenced for what they know about the experiments conducted on the Basques, the Jews, and a dwindling mystical tribe of pre-Caucasian locals called Cagots. From the North Sea islands to the Arizona desert, from the graveyards of the Basque countryside to the heart of colonial Africa, Martinez’s and Quinn’s quests intersect to reveal the shocking roots of racial persecution, human violence, and war.”

  House Justice by Mike Lawson

Summary: “When a leak within the CIA results in the brutal torture and death of a US spy in Tehran, who just gave information to the CIA about a crooked American contractor in Iran, Joe DeMarco is tasked to investigate. Teaming up with the CIA, DeMarco discovers that the victim once had a fling with a journalist now serving time in prison and threatening to unravel DeMarco’s entire operation.”

  In the Name of Honor: a Novel by Richard North Patterson

Summary: “Capt. Paul Terry, one of the army’s most accomplished young lawyers, must defend Brian McCarran, a general’s son who recently returned from a harrowing tour in Iraq. In the high-profile court-martial, Terry is joined by Brian’s sister, Meg McCarran, who leaves her practice in San Francisco to help save her brother. Before the case is over, Terry will become deeply entwined with Meg and the McCarrans–and learn that families, like war, can break the sturdiest of souls.”

  The Garden of Betrayal by Lee Vance

Summary: “Politically savvy, emotionally complex, and frighteningly believable, The Garden of Betrayal is a tense and timely imagining of the casualties of recession-era Wall Street gaming and the back-room global oil wars, a riveting, compulsive read that will grip you from first page to last.”

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Picking up a book read long ago to reread it can provide enormous pleasure.  Recently, I reread Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The experience was like meeting once again an old friend.

Subtitled A Study in Provincial Life, the novel does indeed allow us a view of life in a provincial town in the Midlands of Great Britain, a town with a thriving commercial and industrial center, an established middle class, and all of the usual problems that go along with that.  The hold on prosperity in Victorian times for the middle class depended largely on one’s skills at management of business but also on chance, so one unexpected event could lead to economic uncertainty or even ruin.  Likewise, a seemingly ill-suited marriage might lead to daunting questions or even ostracism by one’s peers.  More than likely, though, any sort of difficulty provided food for gossip, and the gossip of the town’s people is what we hear throughout the book, as the various characters emerge on the pages of the interwoven narrative lines.

Middlemarch is a town large enough to have several physicians already established in their practices, so when the young Tertius Lydgate arrives, he is welcomed but with some reservations. His new approach to medicine, not just the scientific but the business side, raises some concern, a little envy, and finally satisfaction in any comeuppance he might experience.  That doesn’t stop the young Rosamond Vincy, daughter of a well-established businessman, from falling in love with the doctor.  Her marriage to him seems the height of triumph, until financial troubles beset them.

Rosamond’s irresponsible brother Fred wants to be better than he is but must struggle against his inner leanings towards the immediate pleasure of gaming and general youthful fun.  But how will he win the heart of his childhood sweetheart, Mary, the practical young woman who sees his every flaw but might just think he’s worth the effort to improve him?

Mr. Bulstrode runs the town’s bank and controls most of the major financial transactions.  The fact that he is of the evangelical bent and doesn’t mind laying his religion on his peers irritates and frustrates the more liberal townspeople.  But what dark secret does Bulstrode hide that just may provide a swift kick down the stairs of life?

At the heart of the narrative, though, is Dorothea Brooke, who marries the elderly clergyman-scholar the Reverend Casaubon in order to help him with his masterpiece of erudition, an endless and deadly dull study of world mythologies.  By doing so, the young, idealistic Dorothea seemingly seals her fate even before she meets Casaubon’s cousin, Will Ladislaw, who is of European descent, young, handsome, bohemian, and in love with her.  The Reverend Casaubon means to make it highly unlikely that the two will ever find happiness, even if he should pass away.

All of these strings of narratives provide a glimpse of, no, an immersion into Victorian life in the provinces.  We hear the voices of the people, see them in their everyday actions, experience their joys, woes, and struggles, and thoroughly get to know them as our own neighbors, all the while allowing us to hold them at arm’s length, enjoying them but examining them objectively.  When we close the book at its conclusion, we know our old friends are still there, waiting for us to open the pages again to experience once more that enormous pleasure in the rereading.

D. L. S.