Books in the Park

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


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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 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey

5th wave yanceyImagine that you are a teenager living in a painfully normal town; in fact, your chief worries in life are school, your crush, and trying to figure out what to do on a weekend night. In the midst of this normality, on just another regular day at school, the lights go out. You look out your class window and see a plane falling from the sky, you then realize that the cars have stopped in the middle of the road, and that every piece of technology that the human race has come to rely on is now defunct. This is the first in a series of “wave” attacks coordinated by “the Others,” who Cassie, Rick Yancey’s snarky heroine, discovers to be an alien race. The following waves are coldly and precisely calculated to decimate the human race until all that remains are lone survivors and small groups on the fringes. Cassie’s sole remaining family member, her five-year-old brother Sam, then gets kidnapped by a mysterious military group dedicated to training child soldiers. It becomes her mission to save her little brother while trying to survive alone. But people are not what they seem and no one can be fully trusted. And Cassie’s little brother may play an integral role in the 5th Wave, designed to be the most devastating of them all.

Rick Yancey’s novel, the first in a series of three, is an interesting and fresh take on the “the aliens have come to take over the planet” premise. Each wave is well thought-out and it is evident that Yancey has done his scientific research to create an excellent young adult science fiction novel. His main character, and the chief point-of-view for the novel, Cassie, is witty and clever. Her commentary and inner dialogue makes the novel a quick and interesting read.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The 5th Wave.


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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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The Mark of Zorro (1940)

zorroMention the word ‘remake’ in the context of modern Hollywood and you’re likely to find yourself on the blunt end of an opinion – or three. It’s not surprising; over the last several years theaters have been inundated with a variety of controversial and sometimes disappointing remakes. Films like Robocop, Point Break, and Godzilla have pushed the remake trend to the extreme and upset many moviegoers along the way with their questionable quality. Things weren’t always like this. Don’t get me wrong, the motion picture industry has a long history of remakes, but maybe the practice wasn’t as cynical and focused on the bottom line. One great example from the golden age of Hollywood? The riveting 1940 remake of The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Basil Rathbone.

Dashing aristocrat Don Diego Vega (Power) returns from Spain to his native California only to discover that his father, previously the magistrate of Los Angeles, has been replaced by the villainous Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and his Captain of the Guard, Esteban Pasquale (Rathbone). To his friends and family, the junior Vega comes off as foppish and uncaring, more interested in the latest Spanish fashions than the suffering of the poor. In reality, Vega has been striking back against the corrupt Quintero by donning a black mask and taking up the sword, becoming the mysterious figure Zorro. The well-being of the peoples of California hang in the balance while Zorro strikes fear into the hearts of their oppressors.

With its rousing swordplay, quick wit, and perfect enunciation, this is classic Hollywood in fine form. Tyrone Power as Zorro cuts a dashing figure, and although he cannot deliver snappy comebacks quite like an Errol Flynn, his talented swordplay more than makes up for it. In fact, Basil Rathbone, who was himself a talented fencer, even stated that “Tyrone Power could fence Errol Flynn into a cocked hat!” The film makes the most of these fine actors by utilizing the talents of Hollywood fencing master Fred Cavens who specialized in staging more realistic fights that eschewed the stylized leaping and furniture-hopping seen previously. The choice works, and every fight feels genuinely dangerous in a way few swordfights from this period do.  Linda Darnell is a perfectly fine heroine, but the actress who really steals the show is Gale Sondergaard playing the sly, conniving Inez Quintero. Her scheming is delightful to watch and makes for some great moments when paired with Power.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Mark of Zorro.


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The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick

silver linings quickPat Peoples is in a bad place. After a mysterious incident with his wife several years earlier, Pat was placed in a neural health facility where he becomes obsessed with making the “movie of his life” have a silver lining. He will end the Apart Time with his wife Nikki and she will be impressed with his new physical strength and emotional depth. Pat is released into his mother’s care and has a fitful time trying to adapt to his old life. His own father won’t even speak to him unless their favorite sports team, the Eagles, are winning. Pat reconnects with an old friend and their encounters are uncomfortable and forced. However, despite his social dilemmas with friends and family, Pat meets and befriends Tiffany. Tiffany lost her husband suddenly and has since been clinically depressed. She’s been fired from her job and now spends all her time dancing and looking for men to distract her from the loss of her husband. The Pat and Tiffany begin a strange friendship where they run together in silence and share bowls of Corn Flakes at a local diner. The two both have giant emotional hurdles to overcome and together with a little help from the Dance Away Depression competition they begin to heal.

I loved this book! I saw the movie first a few years back but obviously the book has so much more. Matthew Quick’s character development and writing style are spectacular. Quick often uses repetitive and awkward inner monologues to indicate Pat’s mental instability and it’s just fantastically done. I highly recommend this title to literally everyone. It’s got sports, family, romance, and… a silver lining.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Silver Linings Playbook.


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Sounder (1972)

sounderPromoted as a family movie, Sounder is a masterpiece of such slow-moving complexity that I think it might be difficult for a child to sit through it all. But this is an excellent film nonetheless with a superb cast and talented director. Just be sure to keep some tissues handy because the story packs an emotional punch.

Sounder is based on a book of the same name by William Armstrong.

In rural, Depression-era Louisiana, 12-year-old David Lee (Kevin Hook) is by far the oldest child of his poor sharecropper family. Poor is an understatement; this family is downright destitute, scraping by on a meager diet of biscuits and gravy as the owners of their farm take virtually all of their regular harvests. Every day David and his father (Paul Winfield) take their loyal dog, Sounder, out hunting for anything that will put meat on the table. But, despite Sounder’s skill, they haven’t caught anything in a long time. One morning, however, David and his siblings awaken to the glorious smell of meat frying. David is instinctively wary of the unexpected gift, and his uneasiness grows as his parents dodge his questions. Soon enough, the police show up and arrest David’s father for petty theft.

As David’s mother, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), struggles with the farm on her own, David is torn between helping his family and getting an education. The film focuses heavily on David’s coming-of-age as the boy encounters oppression and desperately seeks a way to rise above it.

Rated G.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Sounder.


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If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

if i stay formanMia Hall has a pretty good life. She’s just aced her Julliard audition, her boyfriend is essentially a rock star, and her family is so cool it hurts. Senior year is almost over and the only thing Mia is worried about is whether or not her relationship could withstand a long distance move. That is until, while out with her family for a drive, their car suddenly spins out of control and the subsequent crash instantly kills her mother and father. Mia finds herself far away from the vehicle staring down at the wreckage that is her family. She’s horrified and wondering how it’s possible she could be standing, walking at all while her father’s brains are smeared across the road.  While looking for her little brother she comes across her own body. It’s twisted at weird angles and there’s blood everywhere. How is this even possible? Is she dead? While the nurses and doctors try their hardest to keep her alive and her friends and family weep over her comatose body, Mia relives the years leading up to these moments. Does she want to keep living when her life has been so utterly devastated? Mia now must face the ultimate choice: should she stay?

If I Stay was an interesting take on the out-of-body experience trope: not religious in nature but not quite supernatural either. This book is a perfect quick read for teens and adults and if you liked it there is a sequel!

Check the PPLC Catalog for If I Stay.