Books in the Park

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

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Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), by Lin Manuel Miranda

Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), by Lin Manuel Miranda

Few musicals have taken off in popularity the way that Hamilton has. The hit show about founding father Alexander Hamilton has been going strong on Broadway for two years and the original cast recording has gone platinum twice.

The story begins with a narration by Aaron Burr, played here by Leslie Odom, Jr., who describes himself at the end of the first song as “the damn fool that shot him.” The introduction, Alexander Hamilton, tells the story of Hamilton’s tragic upbringing and his immigration to the United States, setting up his involvement with the American Revolution.

The themes of friendship, revolution, toil, and arrogance ring throughout the musical. Ambitious as can be – Miranda described the titular character as a Slytherin when asked about his Hogwarts house – Hamilton is quick to make influential friends, including Aaron Burr, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington. Burr, as most likely remember, was later Vice President of the United States – the post that he held when he and Hamilton dueled in 1804.

I will say that I am not much of a hip hop fan. This was one of my first forays into the genre, and it was a good introduction, indeed! Miranda’s writing combined with music by Alex Lacamoire is catchy, witty, and holds the attention of five and fifty year olds, alike (However, while my children enjoy the clean version of the soundtrack, it’s not something that I’d recommend for all children!).

Check the PPLC catalog for Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording). 

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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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H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

hhawk macdonaldThis genre-blending memoir/biography/nature story was published in 2014, and now, nearly two years later, the waiting list for it at our library has just started to taper off. So if you haven’t read this critically-acclaimed book yet, now is a great time to place a request. And if you have already read it, feel free to tell us what you thought in the comments.

Helen is still reeling from the unexpected death of her father when she decides to purchase and train a goshawk: a large bird of prey prized in the ancient art of falconry for its remarkable hunting ability. Although Helen is an experienced and accomplished falconer who has trained many hawks, she has never attempted to train one as big and wild as a goshawk. The book documents Helen’s trials and tribulations as she trains her hawk and, slowly, finds meaning in life again. Interleaved with Helen’s own falconer story is that of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, a troubled man who also trained a goshawk.

H is for Hawk is critically acclaimed for a reason. It was so beautifully written and complexly told that, when finished, it was difficult for this librarian to move on to another book. Even if you’re not into falconry, or dealing with grief, or you’ve never heard of T.H. White, this book will regardless strike a nerve. Highly recommended.

Check the PPLC Catalog for H is for Hawk.


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Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

rgb carmon“Laws which disable women from full participation in the political, business and economic arenas are often characterized as ‘protective’ and beneficial. The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.”

The Internet phenomenon that is Notorious RBG has given Ruther Bader Ginsburg (the second woman to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court) some well-earned popularity and respect. After one of her famous impassioned dissent speeches, feminists flocked to the Internet to discuss just how awesome RBG is.  This book not only chronicles her life, education, and career but it also explores the many Internet memes surrounding her and her opinion towards them.

RBG attended Harvard Law School in 1956 with just nine other women. She was wildly successful, but when her husband, who had recently recovered from a very serious bout with cancer, obtained a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law where she graduated at the top of her class. RBG faced constant unequal treatment due to her gender and career choices. With the support of her husband, her hard work, and excellent intellect, she was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.

While RBG claims to be a moderate, she always votes for equality. Often, voting against her fellow peers and fighting for justice alongside movements that are typically aligned with the left. Despite efforts and calls for her retirement, RBG has remained on the bench making solid decisions. Sandra Day O’Conner and Ruther Bader Ginsburg paved the path for future female justices and are an inspiration to equal rights movements across the country. Oh and check out the sweet blog that started it all:

Check the PPLC Catalog for Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Erin Brockovich (2000)

erin brockovichFew movies capture the spirit of Women’s History Month like Erin Brockovich. Based on a true story, the film centers around an unemployed single mother who, despite having no formal legal training, investigated and helped prosecute a major California energy company for poisoning a small town’s water supply.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark settlement.

As if raising three children on her own isn’t difficult enough, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts), is also out of work and injured from a car accident. Brockovich hires a lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), to sue the man who injured her, but her case is unsuccessful. Because she now doesn’t have any money or a job, she strong-arms her way into a file clerk position with Masry’s firm. It doesn’t take long for the shrewd woman to discover an insidious environmental conspiracy orchestrated by the California energy giant, Pacific Gas and Electric. For decades the company has been illegally dumping waste containing the highly carcinogenic compound hexavalent chromium into the ground water of the small town of Hinkley, and now many of the residents have developed aggressive cancers.

Although Brockovich was hired as a simple file clerk, she upends her life to investigate and prosecute the PG&E, bringing justice and financial compensation to those affected by the company’s negligence. PG&E eventually settled for 333 million USD, making it the largest toxic tort injury settlement ever paid in U.S. history. Brockovich’s involvement was pivotal in this major settlement, which paved the way for her successful career as a legal consultant.

Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for her role as Erin Brockovich, and it’s easy to see why: Roberts’ acting is superb in this film. And it’s even more amazing when we remember that this character is based on a real woman whose tenacity and perseverance is truly inspiring not just to women, but to anyone who refuses to let sleeping dogs lie.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Erin Brocovich.

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What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins

what is visible elkins

Chances are that you’ve never heard of a woman named Laura Bridgman, even though she was world-renowned in the mid 1800s. Laura was locally popular for years before rocketing to international stardom when Charles Dickens dedicated an entire chapter to her in his 1842 travel log, American Notes. She was so famous that she had Laura Dolls made in her likeness, and she sold her crocheted doilies to the throngs of people that came to visit her on a weekly basis. What made Laura so special? Despite being deaf and blind, as well as lacking the sense of taste or smell, Laura learned how to read and write and “talk” with others through finger spelling. At a time when disabled people were seen as little more than burdens on their families, Laura proved that the deaf/blind can lead rich, full lives with proper instruction that takes their special circumstances into account. Laura’s extraordinary aptitude for learning despite her disabilities paved the way for the Helen Keller, who received instruction only because Laura Bridgman first proved it could be done.

Author Kimberly Elkins brings Laura Bridgman, as well as several other historical figures, back to life in this beautifully complex and meticulously researched novel. Elkins spent two years combing through mountains of letters, articles, and journal entries in order to paint the “realest Laura Bridgman.”

Although unable to see, hear, taste, or smell, little Laura Bridgman regardless lives a happy life in the company of her teacher, Samuel Gridley Howe, who treats her like a daughter. Laura’s comfortable life is disrupted, however, when Howe marries Julia Ward, a distinguished poet and abhorred all things “abnormal and defective”. As Laura grows older, she also grows further apart from her old teacher as she begins to realize that she is little more than a pawn in Howe’s effort to further the “science” of phrenology as well as prove his Unitarian beliefs.

If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. The plot is told not only from Laura’s point of view, but also from the point of view of Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe, both of whom were prominent historical figures of Civil War-era America.

Check the PPLC Catalog for What is Visible.

Find this title at your local library with WorldCat.

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The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

romanov sistersEverything I ever learned about the Romanovs came from that terrible animated movie in the nineties, Anastasia. To my surprise there were no talking bats in the real story. Rappaport does an amazing job defining each individual girl and even their reclusive mother through their personal letters and diaries. They weren’t just victims of assassination, they were war time volunteers, charming and playing, international celebrities, and extremely loyal and loving. The family banded together to care for their ailing mother and hemophiliac youngest brother often spending long periods of time inside their grounds and rarely attending social engagements. This separation from their people and society bred rumors and it was apparent that the public despised the Tsarina. The girls, however, were adored or at least as much as they could be by a country on the brink of revolution.

I recommend this title to history buffs or to those who love a good gossip magazine. It certainly didn’t read like any history book I’ve read before, and I’m definitely walking away with some cool information. Also, Rasputin is like the weirdest/most interesting person and definitely an important part of the Romanov story.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Romanov Sisters.