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Gregory Cooke

Greg, a librarian at the Reisterstown Branch, loves everything from Squirrel Girl to Stephen King. He comes from a family of librarians and has been devouring books since he was young. His favorite books tends to be graphic novels, though he has a deep seated love for all things sci-fi, fantasy and just plain weird. He'd love to chat with you about the best book you're reading, show you're watching or game you're playing at the moment.

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Greg

IQ

posted by: May 10, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for IQThis is Sherlock like you’ve never seen him before. Joe Ide’s IQ is a fresh take on the famous detective that really boils down the essence of the character and reimagines him in an entirely new context. This is not just another “update” where Sherlock becomes a quirky PI with a psychiatric disorder and a nicotine habit, nor is it a recasting where they take a cranky doctor or a malcontent police officer and throw in some brilliant deductive reasoning. Ide crafts an entirely new character who embodies the spirit of the great detective while breaking new ground; in this story he is a young African American man, growing up poor but smart in south central Los Angeles. It feels like a breath of fresh air for a story that, even when done well, has been done to death.

 

The story spans a couple of time periods. It begins present day where IQ (the nickname of Isaiah, our titular character) has become well known as a problem solver, and is called in to solve an attempt on the life of a rap mogul. It flashes back and forth with the past where Isaiah takes steps down a dark path while simultaneously beginning the journey to become a positive force to the world around him. In the present, a bevy of suspects and an unusual crime scene confuse the field for Isaiah and his assistant/frenemy/partner Dodson, while in the past we see the pair in their earlier days, striking out at others and themselves as they struggle with the curveballs life throws their way and the questionable choices they make.

 

At times, the story may feel distant from the experiences of many of its readers, but the author does a good job of including threads we can all identify with. We may not be poor and growing up in the inner city, but we all understand struggling with grief, giving in to temptation and making bad, easy choices, or trying to help people even when they won’t help themselves. If anything, Ide’s IQ is more generous and well intentioned than most of us — going above and beyond to help others even at real cost to himself. Rather than being alienating though, I found it inspiring. Plus Ide includes a cast of oddball true-to-life characters that keep the story moving and the reader’s interest piqued.

 

I really enjoyed this story — especially the tension of the mysteries and the well-developed main characters. If you like this story, you’ll probably enjoy a lot of Sherlock stories — both the originals by Arthur Conan Doyle and many of the derivatives by a batch of other authors. I would highly recommend BBC’s recent adaptation of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It shares the modern setting and a certain irreverent sense of humor.


 
 

The Empty Ones

posted by: March 29, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Empty OnesRobert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is a punk rock take on a weird and spooky world full of butt kicking, hard drinking and surprising emotional investment. This book will turn the volume up to 11, and follow it up with a punch straight to the heart when you least expect it.

 

A continuation to the first book in the series, The Unnoticeables, this book picks up shortly thereafter. Telling the next step for our rough–around-the-edges “heroes,” it also tells a little more of their history. Brockway does a great job of gradually revealing the mysteries of its world and the nature of the eldritch enemies his characters face while darkly foreshadowing the future ahead of them. The ending completes a satisfying story while setting up the next chapter, leaving readers excitedly waiting for the third and final volume of the series.

 

Readers who enjoy more bizarre humor and “out there” fiction will enjoy it for sure; this book is weird and there’s just no way around it. Joyously counter-culture and unrelentingly vicious at points, it balances this with surprising heart and depth of character in ways you won’t always expect. It’s is a heck of a ride that readers may just need to strap in for and enjoy. Brockway also does a good job of capturing the unique feeling of the exhaustion you get when it feels like the world has nothing but further misfortune for you, no matter what you do — but you push on anyway.

 

I highly recommend reading The Unnoticeables before starting on this one — the mythos is convoluted enough that it could be a little confusing to try and jump in midstream. If you enjoyed this title, you should also try David Wong’s John Dies at the End, which similarly is a story full of strange humor and surprisingly dark moments. Both Wong and Brockway write for the internet humor site Cracked, and they share an esoteric style of writing. Readers might enjoy other stories of magic and adventure, such as Jim Butcher’s Storm Front or Daniel Polansky’s Low Town.


 
 

Normal

posted by: March 22, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for NormalWarren Ellis has a dark view of the future, and he wants to give you the inside scoop. In his newest book Normal, the prolific author of dozens of graphic novels shares his creepy and worryingly plausible view of the future of surveillance and technology in the world.

 

The book begins at Normal Head, an isolated facility in the Pacific Northwest. Normal is where futurists, people whose job it is to look forward and prepare for catastrophes, go to recover when the pressures of their jobs drive them to depression, exhaustion and madness. The protagonist is a newly arrived patient who investigates a strange disappearance of another patient at the facility.

 

While not being an uplifting tale, the book does present an interesting take on where the future of technology may head. Normal is almost more an education on problems humanity may face in the future than a story. It stares unblinkingly at a future that the reader may feel is implausible, but can’t entirely dismiss as impossible. Though it sounds grim, the book is full of memorable and funny — if bizarre — characters, each defined by their quirks and their fears.

 

Overall the book is a great read, especially for fans of speculative, near-future sci-fi. Not truly dystopian, it shows how we got from present day to a world destroyed. Normal is weird and quirky and dark but ultimately delightful.

 

Readers who enjoyed this are also likely to enjoy some of Ellis’ other works, such as Trees, a graphic novel set in a near future where our world has been irrevocably changed by massive technological columns (the titular Trees) from space. They might also enjoy Transmetropolitan, another graphic novel by Ellis that is set in the full on dystopian future, though that series is a good deal more crude and adult than this book. For something a little more hopeful, though no less dark, readers could also try Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. This book, also set in the near future, discusses the dangers of government surveillance through the eyes of a teenager living in San Francisco in the wake of a terrorist attack.

 


 
 

Fight Club 2

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

Cover art for Fight Club 2You always wanted a sequel, and here it is. Dark, weird, confusing and fascinating are all words to describe this head-bending follow up. What Chuck Palahniuk began in Fight Club, he brings full circle in Fight Club 2, and he does so with panache.

 

The book starts several years into the future. The Narrator is now married to Marla, and they have a child. But things are not as joyful as they seem. There are worms in the apple, and things start to fall apart quickly. Palahniuk’s prose is seductive and grand; he posits ideas and immediately pivots to shred them. How powerful is an idea; can it survive the thinker? Can it pass from one generation to the next? These are the sorts of questions that Fight Club 2 demands we answer, all while it assails us with an ideology of violent revolution that’s intended to free our souls from this corporate purgatory we inhabit. Certainly, this book makes clear above anything else that Tyler Durden’s nihilistic philosophy is as juvenile as it is empty.

 

In the end, the questions will linger longer than the answers, and the reader may be left wondering if anything was really answered at all. But for diehard Palahniuk and Fight Club fans, this is a must read regardless. All you can do is strap in and enjoy one more wild ride. If you enjoyed this and you haven’t read the original, you absolutely should pick it up and give it a read.

 

If you’re a graphic novel fan, you should also consider Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, another tale of violent revolution. For something a little less violent, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor tells the story of a young man whose story goes from mundane to mystical and poses a lot of similar questions about our lives and what they mean. Fans of the original book should consider Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which similarly examines the sort of corporate prisons we build and what they do to us, or Charles Heller’s Catch-22, which take a little more roundabout route to examining man’s inhumanity to man and the effects of that violence on the soul.


 
 

Stiletto

posted by: September 27, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for StilettoSpies. Monsters. Super powers. And…bureaucratic humor? In Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley delivers a riveting novel that covers all of the above and more. A follow up to his smash hit The Rook, this novel delves deeper into the world of the Rookery, a covert agency in the English government that employs individuals with unusual abilities to protect their country from threats internal and external.

 

In this book, the Rookery is looking to make nice with an age old foe. But how do you join two groups, when both have been raised since time immemorial to despise the other? Old wounds are re-opened and loyalties are tested when these organizations are forced to confront very real threats to themselves, their colleagues and to England itself.

 

While modern fantasy/espionage/horror/office humor is a pretty niche sub-genre, Daniel O’Malley does a great job of making this book accessible to all audiences. Funny and insightful one moment, terrifying and tense the next, O’Malley seamlessly blends genres to keep the reader engaged from start to finish. He also does a great job of mining his premise for unexpected humor — at one point they discuss how a Gorgon was driven from England not by an armed assault, but by a series of increasingly withering tax audits.

 

A great read for fans of urban fantasy, this book has humor, heart and a few good scares in store for its readers. If you enjoy this book, you could also check out The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, another series about English spies defending crown and country from the supernatural while dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Urban fantasy fans might also enjoy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files; the first book in that series is Storm Front. It follows a modern day private investigator who also happens to be a wizard, mixing dry humor with thrilling action and some terrifying moments.

 


 
 

Outcast

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

Cover art for OutcastRobert Kirkman is already a seasoned veteran of horror-themed graphic novels, so it should come as no surprise that Outcast, his latest offering, is an unqualified success. Scary, tense and mysterious, this book checks all the boxes to make readers love the story and want to come back for more.

 

Outcast tells the story of Kyle Barnes, a man hiding from the world. Haunted by memories of violence in his childhood and divorced after an incident with his wife and daughter, he is entirely alone. He is given new life when he is offered the chance to help a possessed child. When the possessed child calls Kyle “Outcast” and speaks about Kyle’s childhood, he becomes determined to get to the bottom of it all. To tell any more would be to spoil the many, many surprises awaiting readers.

 

Kirkman does a great job of revealing just enough to keep the readers hungry and guessing — each answer leads to more and more questions. Just what does “Outcast” mean? How does this all tie into Kyle’s troubled life? And what is the sinister endgame behind it all? He also does not spare us from the gory horror and violence — panels are viscerally painted with the bloody results of interactions with the possessed. With his trademark prose, Kirkman makes us feel the exhaustion of Kyle’s struggle against darkness on all sides.

 

Definitely a great read for fans of the horror graphic novel genre or Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, this was so well received that it’s currently showing as a TV series on Cinemax. If you enjoyed this, I’d also recommend Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, James Tynion’s The Woods, and Scott Snyder’s Wytches — all series that are terrifying in their own right.


 
 

Something New

posted by: September 12, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Something NewWedding planning can be a bear — ask anyone who has done it and you’ll likely hear a bevy of stories about the ups and downs every couple deals with while putting one together. So when Lucy Knisley manages to bring levity and joy to the tale, you know you’ve found a gem. Her recent graphic novel, Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride, is nothing less than a delight.

 

Refreshingly honest and straightforward, she tells the tale of planning her own wedding from start to finish. Along the way, she includes hilarious discussions of bizarre wedding traditions and DIY attempts that fell a little far from expectations. This book really spoke to me. Her attitudes are decidedly nontraditional, and she struggles throughout the book to square a desire for a ceremony that honors all the right ideas while not being beholden to antiquated attitudes or the bridal industry complex. Her blend of humor and honesty is charming, and she had me hooked from the sweet story of how she met and fell in love with her future husband, through the fights and stress with family over so, so many details, all the way through the extremely touching and heartwarming ceremony itself.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the artwork, which is fantastic. The art manages to be lifelike and recognizable while maintaining a softness and jollity that helps tell a story full of emotions. I especially enjoyed her drawings of cats, which manage to be both adorable and haughty (as all cats are). The art was a great medium for the story, bringing her characters to full life.

 

This book shines forth as a beacon for every person who looks at a wedding and says, “That costs HOW MUCH!!? WHY???” With a fantastic sense of humor, an honest look at the business and traditions of weddings and a true-to-life telling of her own experience, this book offers it all. Whether you’re planning your own wedding or just want to laugh at hers, I couldn’t recommend this more. And if you liked this, definitely give her earlier book Relish a try.


 
 

The Fireman

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

Cover art for The FiremanA great read whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned veteran of horror fiction, Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a complex and unsettling book that will leave you with a lot of deep questions but thrilled that you came along for the ride.

 

The Fireman tells the tale of Harper Grayson, a school nurse who is living in New England when a plague erupts across the world. Dubbed “Dragonscale,” this parasite covers its victims in luminescent scales before eventually causing them to combust into a pyre of flames. Although infected and facing her end, Harper finds a new will to survive when she becomes pregnant, and decides that her child will survive even if she does not. She must attempt to survive the dangerous parasite as well as the groups of people who begin hunting and killing the infected to prevent its spread — a group that includes her husband.

 

This book has a subtle burn — a gentle build of horror that occasionally sparks into a blaze of terror but typically smolders in the background. Hill masterfully uses foreshadowing to build tension and unease, letting you know that disaster waits just ahead but leaving it agonizingly uncertain when and how it will strike. The real terror of this book, though, is not in looming villains or gory scenes, but the darkness in man. The story examines how evil can grow and live in all people, and how all it takes is circumstance to fan it into a flame. Impressively, the story also crafts a believable protagonist who maintains her positivity throughout, remaining strong despite the horrors she faces.

 

With his latest offering, the son has truly surpassed the father. Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, is one of the freshest and strongest voices in horror fiction. If you enjoyed The Fireman, I’d also recommend NOS4A2, an earlier work of his that also deals with a mother seeking to protect her child. I’d also recommend Stephen King’s Cell, which shares a focus on humanity trying to survive after an apocalypse.


 
 
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