Books in the Park

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


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Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

ghost-reynoldsMiddle schooler Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is obsessed with two things: sunflower seeds and the Guinness Book of World Records. He knows a lot of the records by heart, including the fact that some guy named Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world—but that doesn’t mean he cares about track. In fact, running drudges up a traumatic memory: running for his life from his gun-wielding father.

His father has been in jail for three years now, but not a day goes by that Ghost doesn’t think about that horrible night. He can’t talk about it and puts up emotional walls that only alienate him from his peers. Despite being a good kid at heart, he gets into a lot of fights when his buttons are pressed. But his lonely, misunderstood life changes when the school’s track coach sees amazing potential in him and compels him to join the team.

Ghost doesn’t always make the right choices along the way to finding himself, which is what makes him such a great character to read about. His thoughts and actions ring true, and a lot of readers will be able to relate to his feelings. The fantastic role models in his life help to orient him morally with good advice and fitting punishments.

This is the first book in a series, so try not to be too disappointed when that ending comes up way too fast.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ghost.


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Daughters of a Nation, by Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley, and Kianna Alexander

daughters-of-a-nationA feast for the mind as well as the heart, each of the four stories in this romance anthology are set in the turbulent decades surrounding the dawn of the 20th century in the United States; a time when legal slavery had recently been abolished but women and blacks had yet to obtain the right to vote. The stories feature four spirited African American females who are determined to make positive changes through political activism. Readers will find a mix of timely themes including racism, women’s rights, and immigration, each with a light dusting of romance which does nothing to distract from the subject matter.

All four of these stories are fantastic, but I want to highlight my two favorites. “In the Morning Sun” by Lena Hart is about Civil War widow Madeline Asher who moves to Nebraska to teach reading and writing to African Americans as well as inspire them to fight for suffrage. Meanwhile, she must fight against the passion she feels for a white Union veteran with whom there’s no future, due to the strict ban on interracial marriage. “Let Us Dream” by Alyssa Cole is set in 1917 Harlem. With women’s suffrage on the ballot, cabaret owner and natural born entertainer Bertha Hines is determined to convince her patrons to vote in her favor. She finds an unlikely ally in a disenfranchised Muslim immigrant, and their uneasy friendship soon blossoms into something much more.

Stimulating on multiple levels, this is a great read for anyone who values love and freedom.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Daughters of a Nation.


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The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey

girl-with-all-the-gifts-careyThere’s a small problem with zombie novels: besides the zombies, you just have people with problems. That can get stale quickly, especially when graphic novels like The Walking Dead and books like The Passage have covered just about every problem that people in a zombie-infested world can have. The zombies themselves, as metaphors for our inevitable deaths and barely repressed predatory natures, make great extras in horror stories, but don’t necessarily make a great plot—unless a good writer can breathe some life into them. As paradoxical as it sounds, zombies with life in them is what makes The Girl With All the Gifts worth a read.

Melanie is 10 years old and lives in a prison cell. Every day wary armed guards strap her down a wheelchair and then wheel her into a classroom for lessons with the other students. There they learn geography, history, literature, advanced math, and all about the holdout of Beacon, where the last of humanity lives walled away from the “hungries” that prey on them. School is the one bright spot in Melanie’s bleak existence, especially when Miss Justineau teaches. But now Melanie’s classmates are disappearing one by one, taken away by the guards at the command of callous Dr. Caldwell. As Melanie wonders how long it will be before she’s taken, the guards talk in hushed voices about a perimeter breach.

Zombie fans will find a lot to like here, but so will anyone who wants a more nuanced science fiction story about the nature of humanity and the folly of thinking we’re the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection. Plus, the original, imaginative details concerning the zombie infection were fully absorbing.

There is a movie based on the book starring Glenn Close as Dr. Caldwell. The screenplay was written by the author. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl With All the Gifts.


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The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

golem-jinni-wecker-compressedJewish and Arabian mythologies converge in this spellbinding novel set in New York City at the dawn of the 20th century.

When a failed businessman asks a mystic to create a golem to be his wife, the mystic laughs in his face. Golems are mindless beings made of clay with fantastic strength that live only to serve their masters. But the businessman doesn’t want a slave; he wants an obedient yet curious, intelligent, and virtuous wife. Eventually, the mystic comes to view the request as a challenge and, for a hefty price, promises to deliver. “But remember this,” the mystic warns. “No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her.”

Meanwhile, a tinsmith examines an ornate copper flask with delicate scrollwork etched into the metal. When he disrupts the scrollwork, the flask explodes, and a uncannily handsome man wearing nothing but an iron cuff on his right wrist now stands in the shop. “Tell me where the wizard is,” the jinni demands of the baffled tinsmith, “so I can kill him.”

Thus begins a thoroughly engaging story with memorable characters, subtle romance, and beautiful prose. Author Helene Wecker has done something unique and poignant here by coupling the mythologies of these traditionally disparate cultures against the backdrop of New York City in 1899. Further, this is a New York City of immigrants, a fact that is neatly juxtaposed with the unwitting immigration of the golem and the jinni. Highly recommended for fantasy and historical fiction readers.

Wecker has announced that a sequel called The Iron Season is coming in 2018.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Golem and the Jinni.


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2016 Year in Review

2016favorites-tinypng

2016 has been a good year for our blog; hits and comments are up from last year. We hope our spot in cyberspace has helped someone out there find a really good book or movie to enjoy.

Listed here are our favorite books, movies, and music that we enjoyed in 2016. While some of these titles aren’t new this year, it’s never too late for a good recommendation.

First, the 2016 favorites from our patrons. These stats were collected from checkouts countywide.

Most checked out fiction book:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Most checked out nonfiction book:
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Most checked out DVD:
Downton Abbey Season Six

And now staff shares their favorite books, movies, and music that they loved in 2016.

Cathy
Book: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music: Blackstar by David Bowie

Toni
Book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Movie: Moana
Music: The Hamilton Mixtape by various artists

Andrew
Book: Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman
Movie: The Nice Guys
Music: Emotional Mugger by Ty Segall

Mike
Book: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis
Movie: Race
Music: “Growing Up” from the album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

AnnMarie
Book: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Movie: Zootopia
Music: “Don’t Wanna Fight” from the album Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Bret:
Book: Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Erin
Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Dave
Book: Fool by Christopher Moore

Bonnie
Book: Pure by Julianna Baggot

Tony
Book: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Beth
Book: Bindi Babes by Narinder Dham

Bonus:
Looking to read more books in 2017? Joining a reading challenge is a great way to stay motivated and read a wider range of authors and subjects. There are many challenges out there, but this Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges is very comprehensive. Prepare to be literally inspired.

Happy New Year 2017, everyone!


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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

omnivores-dilemma-pollanHumans have evolved to eat a wide variety of food. From roots and grains to fruits and vegetables to meat and nuts, it seems like no other animal on Earth can eat like we can, especially since we learned how to cook. This adaptable eating ability allowed our ancestors to survive whenever regular food supplies ran low. But that was then, and now our omnivore nature turns a simple question like “What should we have for dinner?” into a serious conundrum. Beyond health, taste, and convenience, there are also ethical and environmental effects to consider, as many modern food production practices can be cruel to animals and unsustainable for farmable land. Further, most fruits, vegetables, and meat have become available year-round thanks to advances in production, refrigeration, and transportation—a fact that only complicates the omnivore’s dilemma and takes an additional toll on the environment.

Author Michael Pollan dissects all the different ways we eat by putting food into categories based on how it’s made: industrial, organic, or hunter-gatherer. He then goes to great lengths to track the food in these categories from production to plate. In the industrial category, he visits standard agricultural and animal farms, focusing the production of corn and how it infiltrates virtually every processed food on the market in surprising ways. In the organic category, he looks at a few different types of organic farming, from the barely-not-industrial to a family-owned farm that takes “working with the land” to the next level. In the hunter-gatherer category, Pollan recruits an acquaintance to show him how to hunt, kill, skin, and prepare his own dinner.

I came away from this book with a much better understanding of today’s very long food chain and the problems that come with it. Thankfully, it was not all doom and gloom. Conquering the omnivore’s dilemma all boils down to striking a balance between convenience and sustainability. Just as it’s unreasonable to ask everyone to hunt and grow their own food, it’s equally unreasonable to ask less than 1% of the U.S. population to produce all our food. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the answer. According to Pollan, if you curb your appetite, eat with the seasons, and commit to finding and paying a little extra for local, sustainably grown food, you’ll never again dread the question, “What’s for dinner?” And that’s food for thought.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


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National Cookie Day: Cookbook Recs

sweet-cookie-zabar-1Today is National Cookie Day, and we’re prepared with a few yummy cookbook recommendations.

1. Voracious by Cara Nicoletti: A cookbook for book lovers. There are a lot of different recipes here, but today we’re focusing on the brown butter chocolate chip cookies inspired by the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

2. One Sweet Cookie by Tracey Zabar: With titles like Todd’s favorite triple chocolate and walnut cookies, coconut-nutella-almond macaroons, and ginger citrus cookies, you know every recipe in here is a winner. The author has collected these recipes from a variety of experienced bakers.

3. Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich: Don’t you love it when the title of a book tells you exactly what’s inside? This huge cookie compendium is separated into sections based on the dessert’s texture: crispy, crunchy, chunky, chewy, gooey, flaky, and melt-in-your-mouth. No matter what kind of cookie you’re craving, this cookbook will help narrow your search. And it has plenty of helpful baking tips besides.

Bonus: The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook by Lindsay Landis: Skip the oven and enjoy egg-free cookie batter in its raw state with these clever recipes. This librarian recommends immediately turning to the section entitled Indulgent Breakfasts for cookie dough pancakes, french toast, and waffles.

Bon appétit!