Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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O.J.: Made in America (2016)

oj made in americaSo I’m an NPR junkie. A few weeks ago I was listening to Code Switch and heard them discussing the new documentary OJ: Made in America. They made it sound so compelling that I immediately checked it out from the library, and I was not disappointed.

Ezra Edelman, the director, manages to create a culturally relevant and interesting new perspective on this well-known, high profile case.

I was only five when O.J. Simpson was being tried for the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman and therefore missed all the politics and controversy that surrounded the case. While all the case details were new to me, I was struck by how little U.S. race relations have changed in the past twenty years. With all the recent coverage of the violence that is occurring in streets across America, this documentary could not be more timely. The documentary itself is almost eight hours long but I found it difficult to look away or really do anything productive until it was over. Made in America has in-person interviews with some of O.J.’s old friends, police officers involved with the case, members of the jury, and some of the attorneys who argued the case. It was shocking to hear some of their testimony and the how this case forever changed their lives. 

Edelman does a stellar job biographing Simpson’s rise to fame and his fall from grace. Whether you believe he was innocent or guilty this documentary offers some serious insight. I recommend this title to those interested in true crime, popular culture, race relations, and history. Almost everyone knows the story but you should definitely watch for the details and cultural relevance.

Check the PPLC Catalog for O.J.: Made in America.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

cursed child thorneFirst off, I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd. When I hear those first few musical notes at the beginning of each movie, I get goosebumps. I read my first Harry Potter book when I was 10, and 17 years later I’m still obsessed. Having said that, I was not at all excited for this new installment. I had come to terms with the end of Harry and was content just revisiting the original material. But for some reason when the library got our first copy in for circulation and I was holding it in my hands, I just had to have it. My mom bought me a copy (as is tradition) and I read it all immediately in one sitting. I know there is a lot of hate going around for Cursed Child right now. I’ve seen people refer to it as fanfiction. Honestly, I sort of agree, but it is really really really good fanfiction. It wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, but it was written by an accomplished playwright who did wonders with a new storyline. Seriously, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany do a great job capturing character with only dialogue. I was beyond impressed.

The story is definitely fast-paced and at times a little confusing, but we’ve got to remember that it isn’t a book, it’s a play. You can’t expect the same level of detail that the rest of the series supplies. Only super nerds like myself would go see an 8 hour Harry Potter play.  What I’m saying with all this is that if you’re fan of the characters, the story, the message—you’ve gotta read Cursed Child. Love it, hate it, you feel how you want but you’ve just got to have this story in your brain. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t get into to specifics but TIME TURNERS. Guys, we get more details about time turners and MCGONAGALL. She’s back and just as awesome as before. Read it for her. Cursed Child got me back in the Harry Potter spirit and now I’ve got to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in November. Thanks J.K. Rowling for another great story.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

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Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

dead dark harrisI’ve been re-watching all of HBO’s True Blood and, while I was not-so-patiently waiting for season 7 to come in, I decided to delve into the book series. So far I have not been disappointed.

Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Southern Vampire Mystery series was just so much fun. The show borrows pretty accurately from the source material, and it’s interesting to pull out all the little differences in the characters and plot. If you aren’t familiar with the show or the series let me break it down for you. It’s got vampires, shapeshifters, werewolves, and telepaths. Also, everyone is beautiful and the one-liners are fantastic. On top of all the supernatural shenanigans, it also has an awesome mystery plot line that never gets stale.

Sookie, a waitress/telepath/danger magnet has been longing to meet a vampire since their existence was revealed to the world a few years back. Rural Louisiana, I guess, isn’t too appealing to most vampires. But Vampire Bill, an ex-Confederate soldier, used to call Bon Temps home and strolls into Merlotte’s and into Sookie’s section. Her life will never be the same!

I recommend this series to fans of True Blood, to those who love supernatural stories, or to those who just enjoy reading detailed descriptions of attractive people.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Dead Until Dark.

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick

forgive me quickJust thought I’d clear the air and tell you that this is my favorite book that I’ve read all year. I’m totally biased and will only say awesome things about this book and the author.

It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he’s eating breakfast alone. His rockstar father left a few years back and his ex-model mom is so obsessed with her career in fashion that she’s totally forgotten this momentous day. Leonard has special plans for his first day as an adult: he’s going to murder his former best friend and then kill himself with a Nazi pistol he inherited from his grandfather. But before he can complete this murder/suicide, he must hand-deliver four gifts to the people to whom he wishes to say goodbye. These four individuals are all vastly different and have impacted Leonard’s life in ways he struggles to fully understand but must acknowledge before he ends his life. Leonard, prior to his birthday, would often take days off school to dress up in a suit and ride the train. From there he’d find the most miserable looking adult on their way to work and follow them hoping for insights into adulthood. Leonard is not buying the whole “It gets better” campaign. When not on the train he exclusively hangs out with his elderly neighbor watching old Bogart movies or writes letters from his future self/family to his present self. Leonard’s mind is cluttered and often his thoughts and words are not expressed in the way he’d like which often makes other people uncomfortable.

As we follow Leonard through the delivery of his parting gifts, the history of his mental instability is made clear and we see how he struggles to rationalize the killing of an old friend and himself. There are several nods to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings not just in direct reference but also in dialog and choice of words like “uber morons”. While Forgive Me does have a lot of humor and fantastical moments, it does not skim over the severity of what Leonard plans to do. Quick has done something pretty unique here by writing a story from the side of a potential murderer. He clearly does not take this topic lightly and does a fine job addressing issues that most people are too squeamish to even think about. I recommend this title to those who liked We Need to Talk About Kevin, those interested in the effects of mental illness, and those looking for a great story of perseverance but aren’t too weak in the knees.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.

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Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight

reconstructing ameliaGrace Hall is not your typical high school. Very expensive and elite, the kids who graduate from this prep school go on to get Ivy League educations and work for Fortune 500 companies. Amelia has always been a hardworking and intelligent student who chose to stick with her quirky best friend instead of seeking popularity. But when Amelia is singled out to join the Maggies, a secret sorority, and her BFF isn’t, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Can she tell her mother, Kate, about the escalating hazing she must endure or about how she might just be in love? Kate is high-power attorney for an aggressive law firm in Manhattan. She doesn’t have a lot of free time but does her best to schedule weekly activities with Amelia. Kate is not proud of her past and has tried very hard since Amelia’s birth to overcome an overwhelming mistake. Things are going well for their little family; Amelia is excelling in school and Kate just landed a big case. But then, in the blink of an eye, Amelia is dead. Ruled a suicide, Kate must reconstruct her daughter’s life through e-mails, texts, and sordid websites to figure out just what exactly happened to her perfect daughter.

I really enjoyed this title because it rode the line between YA and adult mystery. It has these awesome little excerpts from an online gossip newsletter called gRaCeFULLY that are just hilarious. It confronts school bullying without being too preachy and has plenty of drama for young and old alike. Genuinely compelling and reminiscent of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, I recommend this title to those that love a little twist in their stories.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Reconstructing Amelia.

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Extraordinary Means, by Robyn Schneider

extraordinary schneiderTuberculosis is back and this new strain is incurable. It’s a nationwide epidemic and sanatoriums are opening up everywhere. Latham House is a special sanatorium for teenagers that is really just part boarding school and part hospital. The kids are encouraged to go to class where the assignments don’t matter and there’s never any homework. Their education isn’t really progressing because no one actually expects them to get any better. Most kids don’t even bother getting out of their pajamas. But, big surprise, there is one group of really cool kids that go to the movie nights in prom clothes, sneak out into the woods to buy booze, and steal the library’s wifi! It’s all very scandalous. Sadie is sort of the ring leader of this group of quirky kids. She’s been at Latham House almost longer than anyone else and doesn’t seem to be in a rush to recover. Sadie likes being the interesting girl here in their small, highly monitored world. Enter Lane, the academic overachieving love interest who is just crushed that TB is going to ruin his GPA. He’s hoping that scientists find a cure quickly so that is meticulously planned life can go on unaltered. Attracted to the formerly mentioned gang of rowdies, Lane joins their ranks and almost instantly fits in. Sadie and the others teach him how to let loose and just enjoy the life they have, no matter how short it may be.

This little book was a perfect rainy day read. It’s depressing in all the right ways and fit all the YA niches it was supposed to. Slightly predictable but pretty entertaining I recommend this title to fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and to those who just love tragic, angst-filled teenage romance novels.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Extraordinary Means.

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Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

everything ng“Lydia is dead.” The opening words of this novel shatter any hope that this young girl we’re about to read all about could possibly be alive. Lydia was the middle child of Marilyn and James Lee. Marilyn, a typical WASP, wanted desperately to not end up like her mother, a housewife with no aspirations other than raising a family. In the 1960s that meant working harder than her fellow male students and catching a lot of sexist resistance on her way to becoming a doctor. James’ parents came to America from China and had to work day and night to give their son a chance to achieve the American Dream. James constantly faced discrimination growing up and desperately sought to assimilate and just become a typical American, going so far as to plan a career in history (the American West). When James and Marilyn meet in college they find in each other what they’ve been searching for. But having their first child derails Marilyn’s school dreams and she becomes resentful. After the birth of Lydia she promises that her daughter will never have to grow up like she did. Marilyn will push her daughter to academic excellence. James is also determined to see Lydia, the only child to inherit blues eyes, fit in. He wants Lydia to have all the friends he never had.

The problem with all of this is Lydia doesn’t want any of it. The burden of her parents’ gaze is too heavy. After her death, her family struggles to discover why she’d end her life and they reach out in unexpected and devastating ways. Their other children Nathan and Hannah might hold answers that their parents were oblivious to. But can these answers help their family recover from such a tragedy? Are they going to be broken forever?

This book was crazy intense. I could not put it down and I was thoroughly depressed by the end… but in a good way? Ng does a great job shifting between character perspectives and weaving a story that is both haunting and profound. My favorite character was little Hannah. So used to being ignored she has taken to lurking under tables and stealing family possessions that won’t be missed. She’s emotionally attuned to everyone in her family and offers great insight. I highly recommend this title and will admit that it lives up to the hype that surrounds it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Everything I Never Told You.