Books in the Park

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


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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Game of Crowns, by Christopher Andersen

In the summer of 2016, we asked our patrons to send us book reviews as part of our adult summer reading raffle. We’ve chose the cream of the crop to feature here on our blog.

This review is by Wendy Risk.

game of crowns andersonMost girls, at some point in childhood, want to grow up to be a princess. The gowns, the palaces, and the prince all promise romance. But the scandals of the house of Windsor provide a more authentic glimpse into modern royal life.

According to Christopher Andersen, the British royal family is the world’s longest running soap opera. Andersen has written the bestselling William and Kate and seventeen other New York Times bestsellers. He’s frequently interviewed on U.S. talk shows.

In Game of Crowns, the author details Queen Elizabeth, her daughter-in-law Camilla, and her granddaughter-in-law Kate’s similarities and differences. The author sets the tone of this gossipy book by calling Camilla the Black Queen and Kate the White Queen.

The author describes royal residences and daily routines. He poses questions, including will the Queen abdicate, letting her son become King Charles III and Camilla become his queen? The majority of Brits hope not. If Charles is passed over, his face will never grace coins, paper currency, or stamps.

For most of the book, the author lets us in on the scandals. He enjoys comparing Kat, whom he calls the most stylish woman on the planet, with Camilla, who underwent a sever makeover including Botox to make her a more presentable future queen.

Royal watchers on both sides of the Atlantic will enjoy the trivia. For example, did you know that a royal piper lays the bagpipes every morning outside their window after the Queen and Price Phillip finish their breakfast? Are you curious to know that Rogers and Hammerstein song he often plays? It’s from Oklahoma, a musical Elizabeth and Phillip saw while dating. The song? “People will say we’re in love.”

And how about Prince Charges, a man of many mistresses, some for decades and simultaneously. What nickname did he ask his paramours to call him? King Arthur.

The book is fun, scandalous, and a quick read. Wondering if it’s for you? Take this quick quiz. The answer to each question is either Elizabeth, Camilla, or Kate:

  1. Which woman drives, according to her cousin, “like a bat out of hell”?
  2. Which woman was nicknames “the Rottweiler” by Lade Diana?
  3. Which woman said, “Strange but I never felt intimated in his presences, never. If felt from the beginning that we were two peas in a pod?”
  4. Which woman’s husband spends $100,000 annually on his wardrobe?
  5. Which woman said: “Let us not take ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.”?
  6. Which woman’s marriage reportedly cost $4 million?
  7. Which woman was photographed rather topless in Provence?
  8. Which woman will be the first commoner queen and college educated queen?

If you took the quiz, you would probably enjoy this book.  The answers are: Queen Elizabeth 1 and 5. Camilla 2, 3, and 4. And Kate 6, 7, and 8.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Game of Crowns.

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The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman

view cheap seat gaimanNeil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of his non-fiction writings. There are book introductions, speeches, reviews of books and movies, and the odd writings that come up in an author’s experience of a writing life. Sometimes it seems that reviews of essay collections say the essays are “hit or miss”, then talk about the hits. Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats has no misses. All the essays are hits. (Side note, I’m using the word “essay” throughout the text to generally describe all the writings, due to the immense variety.)

I say all the essays are hits because, while it’s true that the reader will be more or less interested in some of the topics, all of them build such a broad yet nuanced picture of a thoughtful, prolific writer’s life that I insist you read all of them. His essay on watching a reunion show of The Dresden Dolls, for example, begins with his honest acknowledgment and disappointment that he hadn’t seen them in their heyday, and gives an insider’s view of the band’s collapse (his wife, Amanda Palmer, is half of The Dresden Dolls.) This precious insight adds depth and makes the final scene much more meaningful.

His commencement speech, “Make good art”, is both an honest, humble biographical sketch and an exhortation to fight through life’s challenges with creativity and confidence. He explores his life as an artist, and the false assumptions he made early in his career, and the things he wish he knew as a beginning artist.

One of my favorite sections is the biographical sketches he does of his favorite people. His sketches of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett are wonderful, heartfelt appreciations of their writings, their personalities, and the meaning they added to his life.

Neil Gaiman’s insightful observation and commentary is enhanced by his skillful writing throughout these essays. His storytelling, even when it’s not fiction, shines through the text in such a humble, human, and appreciative voice that each essay in and of itself is a polished gem of a tale. Neil is one of our favorite writers, and we are looking very much forward to seeing his novel American Gods on TV. We’ve reviewed Gaiman’s works before, and can’t wait until we can again.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The View from the Cheap Seats.

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Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

fifty shades jamesHaters are gonna hate. That’s how I’d like to start this review. I read Fifty Shades of Grey after binge-reading the Twilight series. I’ve had dozens of people tell me that Grey was just a Twilight fanfiction for adults and, well, that’s exactly what I wanted. No, of course it’s not great literature that you can one day pass down to your grandchildren and share your favorite passages. No, it’s not here to add anything interesting to the craft or to leave you with deep philosophical discussions. It exists to give all Twilight fans what they really wanted in absolutely the worst way. This grown woman refers to her naval area as her belly and it’s fantastic. I’ve never giggled more in a novel than I did reading this one. It’s just a lot of fun and almost a parody on the popular teen series.

In case you’ve been able to avoid the whole series, here’s a brief overview: Anastasia Steele is a recent college graduate who falls for the very serious and very rich Christian Grey. Through a series of encounters Anastasia properly exerts herself as a helpless human being who is pretty okay with her entire life being compromised to please a man. Christian does his best to be the least charming man in existence but yet is somehow completely irresistible. Their relationship is filled with taboo practices and a lot of lip biting.

Seriously, it’s hilarious. Did I mention she has a male best friend name Jose?! Read it, enjoy it, and pass it on to your friends. I’m not saying you gotta run out and get the whole series, but if you’re bored and got some free time go for it, booboo—I won’t judge you.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fifty Shades of Grey.

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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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James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

james dahlMany children’s books are carefully penned by their authors to educate and inform. These kinds of books have lots of vocabulary words and a strong central message that helps to shape a child’s moral character and mental aptitude as s/he grows into adolescence. James and the Giant Peach is NOT one of those books. It doesn’t have vocabulary words, nor does it really teach anything or have a clear message. But it does one thing incredibly well: it entertains. The pure entertainment value is why James and the Giant Peach is considered a classic of children’s literature, as anyone who has read it with a child, or as a child, can tell you. And, as author Richard McKenna once said: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” James and the Giant Peach fits this bill perfectly.

After his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros that had escaped from the London Zoo, James is sent to live with his two cruel aunts. One day, James meets an old man who gives him a magic potion that promises to bring James happiness. But, in his haste to get home before his aunts get even angrier at him, James trips and spills the potion underneath an old, dried-out peach tree. The next day, one huge peach is growing from the tree’s bare branches. Eventually, James discovers a group of human-sized insects living inside the peach pit. The insects welcome James as the final member of their rag-tag group, and soon they break the peach away from the tree to tumble into the wackiest adventure of all time.

With its outlandish humor and fantastic imagery, both of which are perfectly tailored to a child’s sensibilities, I often suggest James and the Giant Peach to young reluctant readers. The simple, matter-of-fact language is easy to follow and visualize, the plot’s shenanigans is top-notch, and the story always leaves you wondering what’s going to happen next.

Check the PPLC Catalog for James and the Giant Peach.


The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

girl on the trainRachel’s life is in pieces. Her husband cheated on then left her, she lost her job because she’s developed quite an alcohol addiction, and her roommate wants her out immediately. She spends all of her time riding the commuter train she used to take back when she was still employed. Speeding by suburbia, Rachel becomes obsessed with a couple whom she often sees from the train window. They live just a few houses down from her ex-husband. She’s created elaborate stories for their lives and goes so far as to name them Jess and Jason. One night, while on a spectacular bender, Rachel gets off the train near her old home. What she sees and how she obtained some pretty serious injuries, she can’t recall the next morning. This, of course, has happened to her before, but this time a girl has gone missing—and it’s her Jess. Does Rachel know what happened to Jess deep in her subconscious? Will the police take her report seriously even if she does happen to remember something?

A few months back EVERYONE had to read Girl on the Train. The waiting list for this thriller was massive so I avoided it and made no move to secure a copy. The hype has died down now and I finally got me a copy. I read it in two days and I can definitely see why everyone was so excited about it. After Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn became a bestseller, readers were hungry for another dark and twisty mystery. Here it is. Unreliable narrators are one of my favorite literary devices and Rachel makes an excellent anti-hero. I recommend this title wholeheartedly.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl on the Train.