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Crystal

Sex Object

posted by: August 15, 2016 - 9:00am

Cover art for Sex ObjectDoes sexism still exist? Sure, men and women are different. We always will be, biologically speaking. At first glance, women can surely do all of the things that men do in society. We can work, we can vote, we don’t “have to” be mothers and housewives. What more could we want? Where is the sexism? It’s there, and though it may have improved since the days of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, we still need feminism. Widely acclaimed feminist writer Jessica Valenti reintroduces sexism in a different light and gives feminism a fresh approach in her newest book, Sex Object.

 

Sex Object is a memoir written in an organic, rather than chronological, structure. Valenti recounts the moments where sexism has affected her at all different ages and areas of her life, from the time she was in high school and her teacher asked her out, to her 20s when countless men would expose themselves to her on the subway, to the emails and responses she has gotten on her website, Feministing.com.

 

Valenti’s writing is realistic, raw and emotionally empowering. All women have all been where she has been, sexualized and objectified by men, but we don’t often think to call it “wrong” so much as “annoying.” Valenti’s message is not just that sexism is bad or that we should use feminism to fight it. It’s that sexism is so prevalent, so normalized every day, that we need feminism in order to recognize it. Valenti’s book is a great read for a new generation of feminists who understand that our responsibility is not to be victims, but to be voices. We do not necessarily need to fight, but we need to be aware.


 
 

Sleeping Giants

posted by: August 1, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sleeping GiantsSleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is a captivating new science fiction novel about a giant metal robot whose parts are strewn across different parts of the earth and the physicist determined to uncover its origins and purpose. Dr. Rose Franklin encountered the robot firsthand when she was a young girl. She was riding her bike when, suddenly, she fell through the ground and into the palm of a giant metal hand. Rose slowly learns that the hand is just one of many robot parts being discovered around the world, but it’s not clear what these robots were meant for. Making human lives easier? Destroying human lives? The story is told in journal entries, interviews and transcripts, so the reader feels the suspense of trying to piece the story together. Each interviewer and interviewee shares a new perspective to this mystery, and the results unfold at a thrilling pace.

 

This novel is engaging and moves quickly. Its realistic premise makes it a great read for fans of The Martian and science fiction lovers. Although the scientific and robotic concepts are realistic, the language and style of the story are easily digestible. Neuvel has an education in linguistics and a background as a software engineer, so his story is fun to both read and speculate about. It's the first book in a new series, so readers who enjoy this book can look forward to the next installment Walking Gods, coming out in April 2017.

 


 
 

No Baggage

posted by: July 13, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art fo No BaggageTraveling to a different country can be scary and exciting, but when you’re doing it with a person you just met on an online dating site, it becomes an adventure. No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering is a memoir by Clara Bensen about her traveling adventure through eight countries in three weeks. Her traveling partner Jeff is a university professor she met on OkCupid just a few weeks before their trip.

 

Clara describes herself as quiet and reserved, while Jeff has a personality “bigger than Texas.” After a few magical dates and undeniable chemistry, Clara agrees to accompany Jeff on his upcoming trip to Istanbul. In addition to agreeing on a spur-of-the-moment trip, they decide to fully embrace their spontaneity by purchasing plane tickets and ending the planning there — no hotel reservations, no concrete plans, no luggage. It’s certainly a risk, but it’s one that this young couple is willing to take.

 

This book is a refreshing love story about romance in the digital age. Clara describes her relationship with Jeff as “all very modern.” No need to define or question anything; just going with the flow and falling into the rhythm of being with one another. Of course, there are some snares in their honeymoon-like trip, but Clara’s anxiety and worry about the future slowly melt away as she learns to accept and appreciate each moment in front of her — from the warm sea air of beaches in Turkey to the olive trees and burnt grass in Greece. Readers who enjoy thoughtful travel memoirs such as Eat, Pray, Love or Under the Tuscan Sun will love this warm and inspiring travel tale.


 
 

Smarter Faster Better

posted by: June 14, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Smarter Faster BetterWhen it comes down to it, few people understand or even think about the difference between being productive and being busy. If we get as many tasks done in the day as we can, are we really being productive? Charles Duhigg explains why productivity and busyness are not synonymous in his newest book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. As the title suggests, we should be striving to be fully productive in our day-to-day tasks, rather than looking at them as a list of chores that need to be done as quickly as possible. True productivity fosters creativity, motivation and inspiration. It’s not just about completing tasks — it’s about fully doing tasks.

 

Duhigg shares his eight principles to true productivity: motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data. Each principle has an anecdote about some sort of team, business or group that was on the brink of failure until they learned to fully harness their productivity. For example, under “teams,” by looking at the comedians on Saturday Night Live, Duhigg explains that the way team members interact with one another is far more important than who is actually on the team. Duhigg uses the term “psychological safety” to prove why that interaction is so important: When team members are unafraid to fail or be judged, they can be fully productive and share ideas without concern. Duhigg’s real-life examples make this non-fiction book a thought-provoking and narrative read. He favors drawings over diagrams and quotations over statistics, breaking down the psychological density of the topic so that readers can easily apply his productivity principles to their daily lives. Ultimately, this is a motivational and engaging read, perfect for anyone striving for self-improvement or fulfillment.


 
 

A Burglar’s Guide to the City

posted by: June 8, 2016 - 7:00am

A Burglar's Guide to the CityLogic. Problem-solving. Engineering. Physics. Architects have used these skills to create safe and accessible buildings for centuries. At the same time, burglars have been using these skills to figure out how to break into houses and buildings for an equally long time. A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh is written through the eyes and perspective of history’s most successful burglars. Manaugh writes, teaches and lectures on architecture, but he captures the thoughts, motives and passion of burglars with engaging, narrative prose in his book.

 

He begins with the story of notorious architect-turned-burglar George Leonidas Leslie, who used his architectural skills to perform hundreds of robberies in New York City in the late 1800s. The city was just beginning its development as a metropolis of wealth and affluence during the Industrial Revolution, and Leslie used this economic development to his advantage as he asked fellow architects about the structure of new buildings in the city. By gaining deeper architectural insight on the buildings he wanted to rob, he could create models and rehearse with his team, what Manaugh calls “the art of burglary.” A good burglar and a good architect both need impeccable attention to detail, and Manaugh writes of Leslie’s fervent planning and scheming with similar perspicacity.

 

Manaugh moves forward in history with other examples of burglaries to show that while buildings and security systems may change over time, it only inspires deeper and more complex problem-solving from burglars, reaping a bigger thrill and adrenaline rush as the stakes get higher. In addition, he writes of how architects have begun to anticipate crime in their building designs. Casinos are being designed specifically so that security cameras can be installed in ways that maximize their visual field while minimizing their noticeability. In the vast span of burglar history, Manaugh takes the reader deep into both the criminals and setting, showing how they work for and against each other in this entertaining nonfiction read.


 
 

More National Poetry Month Books for Kids

posted by: April 28, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Guess Who, HaikuCover art for A Spectacular Selection of Sea CrittersReading poems out loud is a great way for children to learn the auditory aspects of English, such as rhyme, meter, assonance and alliteration. These colorful books for children add visual enrichment to poetry and are great picks for this year’s National Poetry Month.

 

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea is filled with animal-themed haikus and brightly illustrated pictures. Each haiku is from a different animal with simple clues as to what that animal might be. The first animal comes from a farm and uses “muffled mooing” to announce a “fresh pail of milk.” Turn the page and you find that the haiku does in fact come from a cow! The book continues in this pattern, with haiku clues on one page and the animal answer on the next, making a fun guessing game for kids reading the book. The book has a note from the author explaining that traditional Japanese haikus have an element of play, making this guessing game a lesson in cultural context as well as poetic style.

 

Betsy Franco and Michael Wertz’s A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters is another book of poems about animals, but these animals are exclusively from the sea. This book also features a different animal on each page, but makes use of typography and a catchy blue, orange and white ocean-themed color scheme to capture the reader’s attention. The rhyming patterns vary depending on the animal. Sea turtles get a regal ode, words to describe a jellyfish curve around the page and a pair of needlefish intersect at the letter “e” for a crossword puzzle-style word cloud of adjectives. There are well-known styles of poems utilized as well, from a lion-fish haiku to a coral-reef acrostic. The end of the book includes further resources about sea creatures and aquatic wildlife, making this book a colorful compendium of science, art and literature.


 
 

This Is the Earth

posted by: April 21, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for This Is the EarthWe have been celebrating Earth Day since 1970. Many things have changed in the past 46 years, but the message remains the same: Take care of the Earth, it’s the only one we have. Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander’s new picture book This Is the Earth is unique because its message is not only how to take care of the Earth, but why it is so important to do so.

 

This Is the Earth is written in rhythmic, rhyming verse that becomes soothing and engaging as you read. Vibrant, full-page color illustrations by Wendell Minor take the reader through the vast and varying landscapes of Earth — from an African safari to a bustling river to the endless blue sky “speckled with birds.” As the book continues, the reader travels both geographically across Earth and over spans of time. The illustrations smoothly transition from Native Americans harvesting crops to homesteading pioneers, from the Industrial Revolution up to the present day.

 

At first, the story is positive: We are slowly learning to make the most of our land and resources over time, which helps us raise our standard of living. However, the book quickly takes a darker turn as the illustrations venture beyond shiny cities and productive workers. The once-lush green farmland is now an overflowing landfill, and the bustling river of fish is now a dumping ground for bright orange toxic waste. The book looks at our treatment of the Earth almost as too much of a good thing. Our lives and industrialization may be improving, but at the dire cost of our natural resources and habitat. If we take away from the Earth, we must also give back.

 

The book gives simple suggestions at the end, such as recycling or using less water. The overall takeaway message, though, is much more resonant and memorable: We share this Earth with other people and living things, and we should keep that in mind with the decisions we make.

 


 
 

Women in Computer Science

posted by: February 17, 2016 - 7:00am

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking MachineTechnology: Cool Women Who CodeWomen have been working in the field of computer science for a long time, but their accomplishments are rarely as recognized as the accomplishments of their male counterparts. In reality, many women have been integral to the development of computer science as we know it today. These two nonfiction books begin teaching children at an early age that the field of computer science has grown very quickly and the future is bright for anyone who is interested in becoming a part of it.

 

When were the first computers invented? Your child might be surprised to find that people have been working on developing computers and computer programs since the 1800s. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark is a beautifully illustrated biography. Ada is credited for writing the world’s first computer program. She was so advanced in her field that modern-day computer scientists found Ada’s program was nearly perfect and still useable to this day, even though it was published in 1843. In addition to her compelling narrative, Wallmark includes a timeline and author’s note at the end that highlights the significance of Ada’s life in context. The illustrations by April Chu complement Ada’s life story well, using warm colors and soft lines to capture the time period in this historical biography for young children perfectly.

 

Technology: Cool Women Who Code by Andi Diehn offers a more modern-day perspective on women in computer science, targeted for children ages 9 to 12. The book introduces how computer science and programming languages work and different types of careers for people who are interested in technology. There are three great female role models highlighted in the book: Grace Hopper, a computer programmer for the U.S. Navy; Shaunda Bryant Daily, who explored the connection between computers and human emotion; and Jean Yang, an aspiring computer science professor. The book is graphically engaging and interactive, including text boxes with social and historical context, information about technology-related careers and thought-provoking questions such as, “What does innovation mean to you?” and “What will the computer industry be like 20 or 30 years from now if one gender continues to work in it the most?” The book also provides a magnum of resources for those who want to explore computer science careers even further, including primary resources from the women featured, different websites and books. This book is unique because it highlights issues of gender inequality alongside the excitement of the growing technology industry, which provides a great perspective for any aspiring young computer scientist.


 
 

Computer Science Books for Kids

posted by: February 3, 2016 - 7:30am

Cover art for Ruby WizardryCover art for Adventures in PythonCover art for JavaScript for KidsLearning a new language is challenging, fun and rewarding. Some of the most useful languages a person can learn today are computer coding languages. Many people would be surprised to find that coding languages are not privy only to the extremely tech-savvy or even those who are math geniuses. In fact, even children can learn programming languages, and there are many great books to help introduce them to it. Children today are growing up intuitively knowing how to use technology. Take it a step further by introducing kids (or yourself) to the rewarding aspects of creating or making technology. Creating technology is the best way to fully understand how it works and how it affects our everyday lives. Each of these books explains how coding can be creative, artistic, exciting and engaging. Although they are targeted for children, these books can easily be read by adults who want a true beginner’s approach to computer science. The only materials needed to learn each of these languages are a computer with a working Internet browser and an eagerness to start coding!

 

Ruby is a programming language that is very easy for people to understand. Ruby Wizardry by Eric Weinstein explains how coding languages are like the translator between human language and computer language. Sometimes languages are very easy for a computer to understand, but difficult for humans to understand and vice versa. With Ruby, each line of code is easy for both humans and computers to understand. Weinstein explains that Ruby is so easy to read, writing Ruby code is just like writing a story. He formats his book into a story about two kids helping a king organize his kingdom through the magical power of code. The analogies in his story help explain more complicated computer science theories and concepts. For example, he uses a story about a broken pipe in the king’s castle to explain how computers can be coded with conditional statements to respond to various outcomes. The book is entertaining to work through because of the storylines and a great introduction to coding in general.

 

Similarly to Ruby, Python is also good for kids to learn because it is easy to read. It can be used for creating games, building websites, analyzing data and more. Craig Richardson’s book Adventures in Python is organized more like a textbook for slightly older kids. Each project in this book is arranged by adventure, and each adventure covers a different aspect of the Python language. The projects get steadily more difficult as you work through the book, with each adventure building on concepts covered in the previous section. To begin, you use Python coding to create text and drawings that use Python’s built-in turtle module. Eventually, you use these skills in another module called PyGame, and the book concludes with building an interactive, two-player game. It definitely takes time and patience to work through, but Python is an exceedingly useful language and the book’s “adventure” structure makes it approachable and fun.

 

While Ruby and Python are two very well-known and useful languages, JavaScript is one of the most popular and widely used language among programmers today. JavaScript for Kids for Dummies by Chris Minnick and Eva Holland is a wonderful introduction not only to JavaScript, but programming in general. The book asks for only a few things: that you can use a mouse and keyboard and that you have a working Internet connection and web browser. JavaScript is used for webpages, so the book takes the reader into Google Chrome’s console to show exactly how it works. Those already familiar with blogging and designing their own webpages will recognize how JavaScript works with HTML and CSS. However, even if you have never heard of HTML or CSS in your life, the book explains all concepts truly from a beginner’s perspective. JavaScript is slightly more difficult to read than Ruby or Python, but the book’s use of pictures and screenshots make it easy to see if you’re on the right track.

 

No matter which language or book you choose, you will gain a better perspective on how technology and computers work. Computer science can be a daunting topic, but these colorful, youth-oriented books make it approachable for anyone!


 
 

Paradise City

posted by: January 27, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Paradise CityParadise City by Elizabeth Day introduces us to four characters leading seemingly disparate lives: a businessman, a journalist, a maid and a widow.

 

Howard Pink owns a successful fashion brand in London. He immerses himself in his work and various sexual escapades to distract himself from his inward grieving — his 19-year-old daughter Ada went missing years ago, and at this point he has no choice but to presume she is dead. Stories of Howard Pink’s personal life are often splashed all over the pages of various London newspapers, as journalists are eager to show a glimpse into the tragic self-made millionaire’s life.

 

Esme Reade is one such journalist, though after years of unfulfilling work she lacks the motivation and passion she once had for her job — until her editor gives her a rare opportunity to take Howard Pink out for a formal lunch. Esme unexpectedly connects with Howard and learns that other journalists have barely scratched the surface of his tragic personal life.

 

Beatrice Kizza is a maid at the hotel where Howard Pink is staying. She fled her home in Uganda out of fear of being persecuted for her homosexuality. However, when she is assigned to clean Howard’s room, their interaction causes her to reevaluate her life, her misery and the opportunities she could take advantage of.

 

Recently widowed Carol Wetherington finds the loneliness unbearable. Carol wants to set up her daughter, a single mother, with her next door neighbor Alan in the hopes that her daughter will find the same love and companionship she once had. When Alan asks Carol if she can water his plants while he is out of town, she finds that he actually is far from the type of person her daughter should be with, and makes a discovery that changes the course of her grieving entirely.

 

Day weaves her characters’ stories together with universal themes of love, loss, fulfillment and redemption, showing innate connections of human experience that surpass outward appearance. Despite the differences in Howard's, Esme's, Beatrice's and Carol’s backgrounds, their stories each have a similar emotional resonance to them. Day’s character-driven novel has light mystery undertones, and becomes steadily more engrossing from start to finish.


 
 

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