Books in the Park

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


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Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Until now I haven’t read an entire book in one sitting since I checked out Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as a teenager and stayed up all night to read it. I picked up Seconds the other day and brought it home. I was exhausted but I decided to start reading anyway. What harm would a chapter or two be before bed? 

What I didn’t know, as I cracked open the book, was that I wouldn’t put it back down until I’d finished the last page. I loved O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series and, if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t expecting to like this as much. I hadn’t read much about Seconds, but knew that it always caught my eye on the shelf or in the bookstore. Now that I’ve read it, I can say that comparing Seconds to Scott Pilgrim is apples to oranges. The art style is similar and the writing hooks you, but they’re truly worlds apart in direction.

When we meet the main character, Katie, she’s 29 and is a chef at one of the city’s best restaurants – Seconds. Katie had opened the restaurant with friends and is gearing up to open her very own restaurant in another part of town. She’s got the place picked out and the contractors are working on the renovations. With one foot out the door at Seconds, Katie is feeling a bit lost. After a serious accident at work, she’s presented with a mushroom and a choice – if she could change one thing, would she? The mushroom not only comes with the choice, but with a set of rules.

Katie makes her decision and thus begins her descent down the rabbit hole à la Alice. As Katie falls deeper into a world that is changing day by day, she wonders what has brought her to this point and how can she fix it.

I’ll end my synopsis there, as this book truly takes some wild turns and I’d hate to spoil anything for the next potential reader. Going into Seconds blind (which sounds a lot cooler than saying I checked out a book without reading the description on the cover) turned out to be a good decision. I knew when I picked it up that if I didn’t connect with the story, I’d at least have loved the art and I wasn’t expecting any of the twists that came along.

Wait! One last thing! The art! That’s what I’ll leave you with. If you liked O’Malley’s art in Scott Pilgrim then you’ll love it in Seconds. His style is still the same but it feels very unique to this story. My favorite character design is Lis with her white hair and red eyes. She is somehow creepy and adorable in the same panel and has an epic sense of style thanks to Hazel’s contributions to her wardrobe. Now, go! Pick up a copy of Seconds and tell us what you thought of it!

Check the PPLC catalog for Seconds.

 

 


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The Ables, by Jeremy Scott

ables-scottThe Ables posits a world in which superheroes are real. They call themselves Custodians and live secretly among us. Their powers manifest around adolescence and they live in cities comprised of other Custodians. Phillip Salinger is in the awkward position of having superpowers as well as a physical disability. In Phillip’s case, he can move objects with his mind but cannot see. The Ables tells the story of a group of young people with extraordinary abilities who are limited by their physical and mental disabilities. Or are they?

The author does an admirable job of creating a world of amazing super people and explaining how this society works. He even creates a fairly complicated history for this world that goes back thousands of years. Some bullies use derogatory words such as “cripple” and “freak” but it’s clear from the text that this is not acceptable behavior. The characters are fairly complex and portray a wide range of personality types, and the interactions between them are believable. There is a community of special education kids and they all use appropriate language when referring to each other’s disabilities.

I would recommend this title for anyone. I think it’s great that kids with disabilities can read a story in which people like them are front and center. The message of the book is that everyone is different and each person faces a unique set of challenges in their lives. The superpowers act as a metaphor for the talents that everyone has, and the book tells us that by working together we are all stronger as a whole rather than being merely the sum of our parts.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Ables.


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The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

When I think of authors who have a “voice” that I always enjoy, I turn to John Scalzi. I’ve read everything he’s written, and even reviewed a few already on this blog.  His writing is conversational, clever, and snarky. He writes stories that move along at a quick pace, and he excels at writing the “thought experiment” novel.  “Lock In” is a perfect example, positing a disease that “locks in” sufferers to their bodies while their mind is active. He is brilliant at building the world around his experiment – what would society be like if this was true? How would governments, medicine, and daily life change if this happened? His exploration of that new world builds with the story and characters of his novel, and often uncovers unusual twists that surprise at the end.  The Collapsing Empire is like this – a giant What If? space travel depended on a “Flow” between worlds that allows interstellar travel. How would planets be colonized? What would government be like? What would happen if the Flow wasn’t stable?

The book opens with Cardenia, whose father’s death was unfortunately preceded by the deaths of his heirs – except for Cardenia. She inherits the title of Emprox of the Interdependency and a problem unknown to the rest of her empire. Her unexpected rise to power also proves a challenge, as she is now marriage material for the most powerful families in the empire. She navigates this as best she can while trying to uncover the plots and schemes around her.

Meanwhile, on the farthest possible planet from Cardenia’s, events are unfolding in a backwater world that suddenly has immense significance. A fitful civil war escalates into a conflict involving all the players in the center of the Interdependency. We meet all the characters that we know will play large roles in the future of the empire.

Scalzi’s pacing is fluid and the action moves along swiftly. His characters are interesting, funny and sometimes a little bit scary. We know this title is the first in a series, and there is a little bit of framing for the story to follow, but the read is so entertaining that the framing fades into the background. A nice read to start off the series.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Collapsing Empire.

 


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Out of My Later Years, by Albert Einstein

out-of-my-later-years-einsteinThe contents of this book are a compilation of Albert Einstein’s articles, addresses, assorted papers, and letters published posthumously and edited by the Einstein estate. These accessible essays provide a glimpse into the inner workings of Einstein’s famous mind. Topics covered include: the self, moral decay, morals and emotions, and the goal of human existence.

A portrait of trials, tribulations, and understanding, Out of My Later Years conveys the insight of the modern world’s most celebrated intellectual on a range of societal topics, many of which remain relevant today.

Before or after you watch National Geographic’s Genius, this collection will help further illustrate that this man knew much, not just about the physics of the universe, but also about the inner workings of the universe’s most minor denizens.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Out of My Later Years.


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This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book with a simple rhyming pattern throughout the book. With these short, sweet, simple rhymes, Pitman conveys the feelings of the Pride Parades that are held annually in June to celebrate the LGBT community.

As you pick up and open This Day in June, the first thing that catches your eye are the gorgeous illustrations by Kristyna Litten. The style is very charming and expresses joy, love, and pride throughout the book. Each page shifts in hue, reflecting the colors of the rainbow. 

In addition to the story, the book includes a note to parents and caregivers. It gives suggestions for talking to children in different age groups (3-5, 6-12, and 13-18) about sexual orientation and gender identity in age-appropriate ways. It also includes a reading guide that explains the historical events and figures mentioned throughout the book.

With Pride fast approaching pick up a copy of This Day in June to get the party started early!

 


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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

 

Ari Mendoza is fifteen years old during the summer of 1987. He lives in El Paso, TX and has few friends. His mother is a teacher and his older siblings are grown up and out of the house. His twin sisters are mothers and are 12 years older than him. His brother is in prison. His father is a Vietnam veteran, though he never speaks of his time in the war and he and Ari rarely speak at all. Life for Ari is pretty isolated until he decides to make a decision that is his and his alone after going with the flow or just doing nothing for his entire life. He rides his bike to the public swimming pool, despite not knowing how to swim. It’s there that he meets Dante.

Dante is unlike anyone that Ari has ever met. He is intelligent, kind, and adores his mom and dad. Like Ari, Dante is also Mexican-American. Their shared cultural background and loner status are just a few of the similarities that ignite their initial friendship. The relationship between Ari and Dante flourishes throughout the summer until they go back to school. They don’t attend the same school and won’t see each other again until the following year. During their time apart they grow in different ways. Ari has taken a job and has become an angry teen. He wants to know more about his brother, who he barely remembers. He learns to drive and spends time alone star gazing in the desert. Dante, spending the year in Chicago, starts to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood.

During this gap between being a child and an adolescent, Ari and Dante learn about friendship, acceptance, sacrifice, and love. As a teen centered LGBT novel, it deals with the themes of coming out in a place and time where being gay was not seen as an easily acceptable concept. It also goes into gender roles, specifically masculinity, as well as artistic expression, family secrets, and intellectualism.

The book chronicles the summer, school year, and following summer from the perspective of Ari as he exists between the universe of being a boy and a man. It is one of the purest and most sincere relationships to have graced the pages of a YA novel.  Sáenz’s characters are well written and fleshed out and their story is so realistic that you might question whether or not you are truly reading a work of fiction.

The audio book is narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. The attitude and inflection with which he reads the story truly feels like an auditory glimpse at the life of two teens in 1987.

Check the PPLC catalog for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 


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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie 

AlexieThere are a lot of things you should know about Junior Spirit. He lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, he plays basketball, he speaks with a lisp (and a stutter), his best friend is named Rowdy, his grandmother is the nicest Indian on the reservation, and he has big dreams of becoming a cartoonist. Dreams, he realizes, that will never come true if he stays on the reservation.

To help him realize his dream, Junior has enrolled in a school in Rearden: the mostly white upper-middle-class town twenty miles away. He is nervous about what his neighbors will think of it, he is nervous about what the white kids will think of it, and he is very worried that Rowdy won’t like it, but Junior knows that if he ever wants to be a famous artist in the White world, he needs a White education.

There are two things that I love about this book: one is that Junior’s experience is completely relatable to high schoolers everywhere, and two is that Junior’s experience is not at all relatable to anyone who isn’t Indian. In True Diary, Alexie manages to perfectly capture the primal feelings that every young adult experiences. In this way any reader will understand and love Junior’s story.

Nevertheless, Alexie never lets the reader forget that Junior is a Indian from the reservation. True Diary examines not only common teen experiences, but ones that were true for an author who grew up on the real-life Spokane Indian Reservation. Partly biographical, True Diary details what it is like to live in real poverty in a country that seems to have forgotten you, and your people.

True Diary is an amazing story that I would recommend to pretty much everyone. Thought-provoking and heartfelt, Alexie has created a masterful YA novel that examines differences and creates empathy.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.