“Hell is a series of hallways.” I think I can believe that. In The Library of the Unwritten, author A.J. Hackwith imagines not only Hell, but a variety of realms of the afterlife, down to the bureaucracy that governs them.
Claire Hadley has been Hell’s Librarian for a few decades now. She runs the Unwritten Wing, home to all of the stories that authors never actually wrote. Brevity, Claire’s assistant, is a former muse, and the two are joined by a demon, Leto, as they set off to retrieve a character who has escaped from his book and made his way to earth to seek his author. As they are ready to return to the Library, an angel shows up, expecting them to have a completely different book – the Devil’s Bible.
Before they know it, Claire, Brevity, Leto, and Hero find themselves on an adventure to try to avert war between Heaven and Hell. They know such a battle would spell disaster for the humans who would be caught in the middle. In the end, all of the library’s resources will be needed to defend against those who would harm it.
Hackwith does a beautiful job describing the worlds they travel through as we learn more about the intriguing cast of characters, none of whom are quite what they seem. She also demonstrates the politics of the different domains.
This book was refreshing in the way it tied different beliefs and mythologies into an original premise with unique characters. I was captivated throughout. The journal entry or two from librarians through the ages beginning each chapter, which hinted at some of the challenges they faced in previous eras, were a helpful touch. This is the first book in a new series, so I look forward to learning more about the past – both Claire’s and the library’s – as well as further adventures to come.
The Library of the Unwritten is available from HCLS in print and also as an eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.
Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).
By Cherise T.
Do you miss browsing our library shelves? Settling into a cozy chair to explore a stack of books and deciding which to check out and take home? Filling your bag with books by new authors, DVDs for that sitcom your daughter thought you’d love, CDs by a band you’ve been hearing on the radio? If so, Howard County Library System’s Bundle Bags will bring you joy, information, and entertainment. Especially with the colder weather setting in, a bag of library materials prepared just for you will brighten the day. Think about snuggling under a blanket with a new book, immersing in a compelling period drama, laughing at a romantic comedy or dancing to energizing music. Whether you want to challenge yourself and learn to knit in time for holiday gift giving or bake a great pie using recipes from a gorgeous cookbook, there’s a Bundle Bag for you.
Save time assisting your student with a homework assignment by requesting a Bundle Bag. Just imagine, a bag filled with books about trucks, colors, and shapes. Or maybe your child is ready to add chapter books to his reading journey. Our library staff is skilled in selecting children’s and teen books ranging from educational to inspirational, from sports to fantasy to classics. The next time a family member complains of running out of things to read or watch, be reassured that help is on the way.
Destress throughout your daily activities with some holiday music. We’ve got a Bundle Bag for that. Always wanted to try a romance novel? We’ve got a Bundle Bag for that. Relax into an audiobook about your favorite movie star or escape with a thrilling mystery. Explore true crime accounts. Check out a British television series. With a bag filled with materials, you may just find your next favorite book or movie.
Easily complete the form for a Bundle Bag on our website. There are five age categories ranging from infant to adult. Request books or CDs/DVDs, or both. For each category requested, a library research staff member selects six items. Choose up to five categories for a total of 30 items. After selecting the bundle contents, complete the form by entering a pickup date and time as early as the second library business day and up to two weeks from the date of form submission. Bags may be picked up at any of our six branches. With one trip to the library for contactless pickup, bring home everything from board books for your grandson to Oscar-winning films for you.
Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.
We celebrate Veterans Day today, November 11, and it’s not just an extra day off each year. As a young person, I didn’t realize the significance of the date and why it doesn’t float like similar holidays. Veterans Day was not explained to me in school; in fact, the significance of the First World War wasn’t very clear until I took a college-level class. However, I won’t blame my teachers; there is a high probability that I was not paying attention.
I have always liked history because it seems like a big story, and I love those. I still, fortuitously, fill the gaps of my historical knowledge through books, very often through fictional stories as a gateway to the actual events. So please read them, you can borrow them for free.
Kurt Vonnegut is arguably one of my favorite writers for his indefatigable humanism and wit. Sadly, I’m a huge fan of what people call gallows humor. He served in combat for the U.S. Army during the Second World War. In short, he was captured, detained as a prisoner of war, survived the fire-bombing of Dresden as a POW, and experienced horrifying things. His work Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Deathaddresses this experience. The title refers to the former slaughterhouse where he and other POWS were held, and the fact that they were really children when they fought the war. Many of his works are about war and post-traumatic stress it causes. Strangely, Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, what would become Veterans Day.
In my opinion, the prefaces of his books, as well as his memoir A Man Without a Country (also in audio) are nearly as good as the novels. I find them hilarious. In the preface to Breakfast of Champions (available in ebook, eAudio, or this collection), he describes how Armistice Day marked the end of the First World War. The cease-fire was declared on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Vonnegut poetically said,
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind (504-5, Novels and Stories 1962-1973).
I can only imagine that, to a battlefield veteran, the silence of a cease-fire must indeed have sounded like providence. Vonnegut said that Armistice Day was “sacred,” I assume because it meant an end to fighting in the War to End All Wars. I’m fairly confident he supported veterans of all types, but I too hope the idea of a cease-fire is still “sacred.”
I very much appreciate the veterans of the military. I admire their courage, and I especially admire my late Grandmother who served as a combat nurse during the Second World War.
Check out HCLS’s list of titles to remember and celebrate our nation’s military heroes this Veterans Day.
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
In a sprawling basti (slum) in an Indian city where smog seems to smother the inhabitants along with trash, diseases, and terrible living conditions, children start disappearing. Nine-year-old Jai lives in the basti with his mother, who works for a lady in a ‘hi fi’ building, his sister, Runu didi, who is the fastest runner in her school, and his father, who works hard to provide for the family. Jai loves watching cop shows and wishes to become a detective like Byomkesh Bakshi or Feluda (both fictional detectives in Bengali literature) or Sherlock Holmes when he grows up.
The mystery of disappearing children gives him the perfect opportunity to hone his crime solving skills. Every detective needs assistants, and he employs the services of his best friends and classmates, Pari and Faiz, to be his sidekicks as he embarks into “detectiving.” The trouble is, Pari has excellent brains and always asks the right questions before Jai can even think of them.
As children in Jai’s basti continue to disappear, finger pointing begins targeting the Muslim community of the basti. Although frantic parents of missing children inform the police about these disappearances, drawing the ire of their neighbors, the police take no notice of these kidnappings. They come to take bribes from the poor, bereft parents instead. The other residents are infuriated at the involvement of the authorities as they worry the government can raze their basti with bulldozers since they live there illegally. Fanatic religious groups swoop in to assert their dominance and sow seeds of hatred and divisiveness between Hindu and Muslim communities.
While the story and the characters are fictional, the events are, unfortunately, real. According to the author, “as many as 180 children are said to go missing in India everyday.” The police investigation into these disappearances is negligible. The marginalized population remains invisible to the opulent class and their losses remain ignored. Deepa Anappara, during her career as a journalist, interviewed many impoverished children living on streets and in such slums.
The author chose nine-year-old protagonists to tell this story of loss because, during her interviews, she discovered that the street children have a great sense of humor despite horrific living conditions. Given their cheekiness and astute observation skills tinged with innocence, Jai, Pari and Faiz try to make sense of the sadness and chaos that envelop them. The narrative of the children makes the setting and environment even more poignant for the readers. The sense of place that the author creates transports the readers to Jai’s basti, and Anappara engages all our senses to experience the story. Lastly, the dialogue in the book is very typical of how many Indians speak English as they do literal translation of their mother tongue to the other language. I found the dialogues to be exact and authentic. Having Jai, Pari, Faiz, and others speak impeccable English would have marred the essence of the setting and authenticity. I am curious if the dialogue would be a deterrent for Western readers. The backdrop of the story reminded me of the incredible book about India’s biggest slum in Mumbai, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.
Tomorrow marks the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and in culmination and in the spirit of #OwnVoices, HCLS presents two book reviews written by Latina staff members about Hispanic authors. Read to the end to find out about classes this week in celebration of Hispanic Heritage!
By Gabriela P.
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea sweeps the reader away with the timeless intimacy of a family chronicle. Absolutely stunning prose brings irresistible characters to life as they move through physical borders, family relationships, and personal struggles. The novel presents a Mexican-American family recounting their family’s history with bittersweet humor. The predictable immigration tale set-up is given a fresh makeover with the uninhibited and blunt depiction of a complicated reality.
Urrea doesn’t shy away from presenting a raw clumsiness in the characters’ interactions. Their emotions came across so authentically that I often felt myself getting goosebumps while reading! I was happy to discover that the theme that struck me the most was completely unexpected. Others who have reviewed the book frequently comment on the hierarchy, since a lot of the narrative revolves around “Big Angel”, the patriarch of the family. But I found that it was, in fact, the women of the family who drove the story. Though easily missed in favor of the more dramatic plot points, as the family’s history is recounted, the women’s strength and resiliency is cemented. Without giving the ending away, I can say that I was delighted to see women in roles usually reserved for men, and even more so that their strength was recognized.
I can find parallels to my own family’s history in the novel, and I definitely found myself identifying with one of the characters…but I won’t say which one!
The House of Broken Angels is also available as an ebook and eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.
Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch.She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.
By Carolina W.
In Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter in a family living in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century, is born in her kitchen, establishing her connection to cooking. Pedro Muzquiz asks for Tita’s hand in marriage but Mama Elena, Tita’s tyrannical mother, says Tita is forbidden to marry because of family tradition. Pedro then marries Tita’s sister, Rosaura, to be close to Tita. Gertrudis, the eldest daughter of Mama Elena, escapes the ranch after reacting mysteriously to one of Tita’s recipes. Rosaura gives birth to a son, Roberto, who is delivered by Tita, who treats him as her own. After Mama Elena arranges for Rosaura’s family to move to San Antonio, Texas, Tita is devastated when several tragedies challenge her health and sanity. The ending is hopeful, however, as John Brown, a local American doctor, patiently restores love and health to her life and helps rehabilitate her soul.
As a Latina who grew up in Texas near the Mexican border, it was natural to be drawn to read Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate. I was fascinated to find out about the Mexican culture’s family traditions, particularly because my family cherishes traditions so strongly. The main conflict in this novel is a family custom which forbids the youngest daughter from marrying so that she will be free to take care of her mother. This dilemma sincerely captured my attention as did the delicious recipes which are used to represent the characters’ feelings and situations and Tita De La Garza’s and Pedro Muzquiz’s tragic, passionate love story.
Like Water for Chocolate is also available in Spanish in our World Language collection.
Carolina is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch.She loves Mexican food, having fun, and adventure.
HCLS offers the following three classes in recognition and celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Please join us (follow the links to register)!
This has to be one of the most difficult books that I have read in a very long time. Difficult, powerful and absolutely brilliant. I had to take frequent breaks because of the inexplicable cruelty that is described in the book. However, I realized I was thinking about the story and the characters even during those breaks.
Lilith is born as a slave in the Montpelier plantation in Kingston, Jamaica in the eighteenth century. She is born with skin as dark as midnight, yet her eyes are a startling green. She is also born with an indomitable spirit which refuses to be tamed even within bondage. There is a group of women on the plantation, the Night Women, who are plotting a revolution. The head house slave, Homer, who is also the leader of the slave uprising, recognizes something dark within Lilith’s spirit. She raises Lilith with the hope that she will use that darkness towards the cause of the slave rebellion. Their dream is to recreate the villages of Africa that they were forced to abandon after the uprising. Lilith’s life, however, takes a slightly different turn than the rest of the slaves in Montpelier, and her decision to join the revolution is highly influenced by that turn of events. Where does Lilith’s loyalty lie? Will she harness the dark power within her to help free her people?
Marlon James poses a challenge to his readers to live the lives of both his Black and White characters in 18th century Jamaica; he dares them to stomach the inexplicable cruelty that was meted out to the slaves by the White overseers, plantation owners and ‘johnny jumpers,’ and then he invites them to put this all into the current context and analyze how much has really changed in the world that we inhabit. The topic was harsh and this was not a pleasant read, but I am determined not to run away from hard topics that deal with race. This book, through a thoroughly captivating story, sheds a spotlight on the White mentality of objectifying and dehumanizing Black people so they could inflict the cruelest of torture on them, physically and mentally. This is a brutally honest look at the genesis of racism.
Red Bones, the third book in the Shetland series of mysteries by Ann Cleeves, delves into the family of Sandy Wilson, the young policeman who works for main series character Jimmy Perez. Sandy’s family lives on one of the outlying Shetland islands, Whalsay, in a small community where an archaeologist has recently unearthed bones that may or may not be “ancient history.” When tragedy ensues, Detective Inspector Perez investigates how Sandy’s extended family, as well as the students and professor involved with the dig, might be culpable. Not just a family drama, the story also recounts how an isolated community of individuals gossips, lies, and hides secrets, even from those they love the most.
The novel is also an interesting exploration of Sandy’s character. Early in the book, Perez is, “surprised that Sandy had shown so much initiative, wondered if he should congratulate him or if that would just be patronizing. In the office Sandy was always considered a bit of a joke. Perez had shared the low opinion at times” (35). Based on that description and his actions in the first two books in the series, Sandy could easily develop into a stock plodding detective, uninspired and demonstrating little intelligence or motivation. Instead, we see Perez give him challenges and progressively more difficult assignments throughout the case. He struggles with hard questions, matures, and takes on more responsibility, which is a testimony to Ann Cleeves’ ability to keep her characters multi-dimensional.
One of the things I love most about these books is how the characters and their relationships to one another grow throughout the series. Although the book furthers Perez’s personal story, including his budding relationship with artist Fran Hunter and her daughter Cassie, it is equally Sandy’s story, and that of the generations on the island who share a collective past both desperate and painful.
I listened to the audiobook on CloudLibrary as I read along, and narrator Gordon Griffin, an actor and dialogue coach, conveyed Cleeves’ beautiful, remote setting with dramatic (but never overblown) narration in an authentic accent.
I highly recommend the first two Shetland books, Raven Black and White Nights. If you enjoy the work of Ann Cleeves, look for her DI Vera Stanhope series (the first one is The Crow Trap, available as an ebook) as well as her newest series, Two Rivers, set in Devon, England and featuring detective Matthew Venn. The first book, The Long Call, is also available in ebook and eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive. And if you enjoy the novels, both Shetland and Vera are available in DVD format at HCLS in television series produced by the BBC and ITV, respectively.
Ann Cleeves is a 2017 winner of the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honor in British crime writing. She also won the Agatha Award in the Best Contemporary Novel category for The Long Call. Visit her website to learn more about this remarkable author.
Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates two book discussion groups – Spies, Lies, and Alibis and Bas Bleu.
Many fascinating works of immigrant literature highlight various aspects of the immigrant experience, including the anonymity and loneliness that I reflected on in Monday’s post about my own experience as an immigrant who eventually discovered a welcoming community at my local library. Here are a few of my favorites:
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: (Available in print, ebook, eaudio) – New arrivals from Kolkata, India, the Ganguli family tries to create their lives in America while they miss their home. The book explores the complicated relationship first-generation immigrants have with their birth country and the country of their ancestors.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames: (Available in print) – Beautiful yet odd, Stella Fortuna has been pursued by death her entire life. But Stella is resilient and tough. Above all things, Stella desires freedom. However, when Stella’s family emigrates to America from their village in Italy on the cusp of WWII, Stella realizes her family will deny her what she desires most at any cost, her freedom.
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok: (Available in print and ebook) – A beautiful story of Kimberly Chang, an immigrant from Hong Kong, who has to straddle two worlds, succeeding in America through hard work and fulfilling her duty to her family.
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande (also available in ebook and eaudiobook): Reyna Grande’s powerful memoir tells us about her childhood in a remote village in Mexico where her parents left her to make a living in United States, and her illegal trek across the two countries to be reunited with her parents at age 8.
When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago: In this memoir, the author describes her childhood days in Puerto Rico, which were filled with chaos, but also love and tenderness. From a very different environment in Puerto Rico, Santiago is brought to the bewildering and confusing world of New York. In her memoir, the author chronicles her journey of overcoming adversity in a new country and finding acceptance and success.
Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.
Meet Maggie Hoskie: monster hunter, Navajo (Diné) clan warrior, and first person narrator of Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel. In Trail of Lightning, the world as we know it has been mostly destroyed by earthquakes and subsequent floods. A strange thing happened during that time: Navajo history, gods, and legends came back to life and walls appeared around what was the reservation, protecting Dinétah from the worst of the predations happening in the outside world. It was something of a mixed blessing, for while traditional Diné clan life continued stronger than ever, it also brought back the scary parts of legend along with the good. As the book opens, Maggie doubts if she’s one of the good guys or just another one of the monsters she hunts. (Just to note: given the nature of the story, this book is chock-full of fairly graphic violence.)
This quick-paced, smart-mouthed action-adventure story takes place entirely within the Navajo world. The book opens with Maggie chasing a monster across the high desert hills, one who had kidnapped a young girl. We learn that Maggie’s clan powers include swiftness and battle rage, which serve her well in her vocation. In the aftermath, we meet her honorary grandfather Tah and Tah’s actual grandson Kai, who may or may not be a magician but is definitely something of a fashion plate. Tah practices the traditional scheme of grandparents everywhere by throwing his two favorite young folks together, in hopes of friendship and maybe even romance.
Maggie’s life is further complicated when her old friend Mai’i (Coyote) turns up at her trailer asking for a favor. Coyote plays his usual trickster part, but honestly, he’s only trying to make things better. The story becomes a race to find and eliminate a growing threat to Dinétah, which eventually involves a wide range of locals and legends. Maggie ends up having to deal directly with her one-time mentor and lover, Neizhgani, the (sort of) god of lightning. Maggie achieves some clarity and closure in the end, but it is a hard won truth that leaves everyone a little heartsore.
I had visited the Navajo reservation shortly before reading this book, and I could picture the locations clearly with the rock formations and scrubby landscape. Roanhorse is Black and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, and her husband and daughter are Navajo. She uses Diné terms for the clans and their powers, for the legends and gods, and it’s as strange in its own way as any other fantasy setting. This is the language of the WWII Code Talkers, which no one else in the world could decipher. It’s a powerful way to display Native American culture, asking the reader to figure out terminology from context without a glossary or other appendix. Roanhorse uses the place and language to good effect, creating a sense of other-ness that’s actually grounded in reality.
If you love this book as much as I do, I also recommend the sequel, Storm of Locusts. Maggie ventures out into the wider world … in a story no less filled with monsters and companions for the journey.
Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.
Looking for some excellent teen fiction featuring LGBTQ+ main characters and/or written by LGBTQ+ authors and illustrators? Look no further! We have you covered with different books from various genres, as well as our Rainbow Reads teen reading list from 2019. Many of the authors listed below have other titles, too. So if you find one you really like, keep reading!
The hard part is choosing which to review, but that’s a great problem to have, honestly. Each year we see so many more awesome books published, and are especially excited to see those written in our own voices because representation matters. ❤️
The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy follows seventh grade Rahul as he tries to find his place in the world. He navigates the ups and downs of middle school and his supportive, but at times super embarrassing, Indian family. Clever, funny, and an anxious perfectionist at heart, Rahul slowly realizes he might have a crush on his popular neighbor, Justin. While the book is technically part of the teen collection, I would easily recommend this to late elementary readers as well.
If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann features Winnie, a self-confident fat queer Black girl from a small town, who enters a cooking competition to try and save her family’s diner. On top of that, she is also trying to figure out her many complicated relationships – romantic, friendship-based, and with her family, especially with her opinionated grandmother.
Birthday by Meredith Russo spans six years in the lives of two best friends, Eric and Morgan, as they each grow up in different ways while facing various challenges that involve family, school, identity, and each other. Morgan has a huge secret that he fears will destroy their friendship, but it becomes harder and harder to keep it from Eric. This story is one of destiny as well as heartbreak, so be prepared!
Mariam Sharma Hits the Road by Sheba Karim gives you an epic road trip adventure story when three close friends head to New Orleans and have new experiences along the way. They have some hilarious and adorable moments like finding your inner drag queen and celebrating your true self, and some more serious ones like dealing with Islamophobia and deadbeat dads, and, of course, lots and lots of delicious food.
Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells presents an engaging rescue quest tale with all the traditional fantasy elements, especially DRAGONS! Marin journeys to the palace to save her kidnapped love, Kaia, only to find herself mixed up with an ancient prophesy, a lost prince, and a dangerous rebellion. She also might have some hidden powers of her own. Read it now, so you’ll be ready when the sequel is published in October.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi takes place in a not so distant future where evil has been totally eradicated and everyone lives safely in their utopian society…or maybe not. One day a deadly magical creature made all of teeth and claws and feathers emerges from Jam’s mother’s painting. Only it’s not the monster, it has been sent to hunt a real monster, one that is lurking nearby and hurting one of Jam’s friends.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore is a gorgeously written and haunting fairy tale that features a memorable, lovable cast of characters. Miel has roses growing out of her wrists and Sam hangs his painted moons all over town at night, and together they must ward off the wicked Bonner sisters who seek to steal their magic.
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee stars Jess, a Chinese-Vietnamese bisexual daughter of two famous superheroes with no powers of her own, who inadvertently interns for the local villain and her parents’ arch-nemesis. In her new job, she gets to work with her crush and maybe finally find her own powers, all while uncovering a secret plot. This is the first book in a series with three books in print and a fourth one in the works, all full of diverse queer characters.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power hits a bit too close to home, with an isolated boarding school under quarantine from a dangerous illness and no vaccine. Unlike current events, the so-called “Tox” causes all sorts of horrifying mutations and mostly affects the students and the island wildlife. Will anyone escape alive?
Proxy by Alex London is an action-packed sci-fi adventure that modernizes the fable of the Whipping Boy with added Hunger Games elements. When Syd is sentenced to death as punishment for Knox’s actions, the boys escape together but they are up against the world.
Happy Pride and happy reading!
P.s. There are a ton of great LGBTQ+ graphic novels as well.
Sarah C. is the teen instructor at HCLS Savage Branch and she always has time to talk, about books, comics, school, or whatever you need to talk about.