Books in the Park

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

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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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10% Happier, by Dan Harris

10 happier harrisIf you want to know how the author became 10% happier without reading the book, I can tell you in one word: meditation. Wait! I can feel you wanting to click away, but hear me out. If you are a skeptic who thinks meditation is a bunch of hooey, like I did, you might find this book especially insightful. The author, Dan Harris, is a prolific journalist for ABC and also an agnostic who doesn’t have a strong belief in a higher power, which makes him an interesting case study for the benefits of meditation. During Harris’ professional career he has done in-person interviews with three superstars of self-help: Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama. Harris is candid about what these people are really like, but he’s even more candid about himself: what led him to discover meditation and how exactly it helped him.

Dan Harris’ journey began in 2004 when he had a panic attack on live TV. This moment represented rock-bottom of a downward spiral for a man whose profession requires nothing less than a flawless presentation. With the help of a therapist, Harris discovered that his “self-medicating” with cocaine and ecstasy, as well as the flulike symptoms and lethargy he’d been feeling since returning from reporting in Iraq, was all linked to depression. From there, Harris began a personal odyssey to reel in his emotions and silence the overly-critical voice in his head, eventually stumbling onto meditation for lasting results.

Like many personal journeys, Harris’ was full of ups and downs, dead ends and epiphanies. Even if you’re not interested in meditation, this book is a fascinating read nonetheless and very well-written. Harris talks openly about many of the most controversial events he’s reported on over the years from the Iraq War to disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, which makes this book a surprising page-turner. And if by the end Harris has convinced you to try meditating, there’s an appendix with everything you need to know to get started.

Check the PPLC Catalog for 10% Happier.

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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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A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

seven killings marlonEvery so often you come across a book that almost defies your ability to read it, while motivating you to finish and master it. This is one of those books.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a wide-ranging historical drama that takes you from the youngest survivor of Jamaican slums in the 1970s to the drug wars of New York in the 80s, from the attempted murder of Bob Marley to the CIA’s entry into the ”War on Drugs”. It is a story of incredible violence spiraling out from Jamaica and the people who lived it, survived it, and practiced it. There are equal parts beauty and horror.

Brief History is a challenging book because it has many voices, all ringing true, in many dialects. They weave the story in and out of the slums, the offices, and cities while telling a fictional version of the Tivoli Gardens based drug gang the “Shower Posse”, which has centers in American cities as well as Toronto. Bob Marley is only mentioned as the Singer, but a central part of the narrative revolves around him. James’ storytelling uses these different voices as point and counterpoint, with heartbreak, despair, exultation and bravado flavoring the spirit of the story.

It’s these very voices which can, at times, make reading this book a struggle. Some dialects are so thick that it is slow going, between native slang, abbreviations, and idioms that I could only read a couple of chapters before I had to put it down. Every night I put it down, and the next night I picked it up again, because as the book moves forward, the voices become less spread out and the narrative becomes that much more compelling.

James has an astonishing fluency and command of language. Creating a narrative structure in the middle of what was, essentially, chaos is an astonishing feat, and is probably what lead to the book winning the 2015 Booker Prize. It’s an enthralling read, as long as you are willing to let the narrative develop.

Check the PPLC Catalog for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

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Hello Goodbye Hello, by Craig Brown

hello goodbye hello coverHello Goodbye Hello tells how the celebrated, gifted, and despicable got along famously, disastrously, or indifferently with each other. Author and satirist Craig Brown describes true encounters of the famous meeting the famous such as:

Marilyn Monroe meets Nikita Krushchev
President Richard Nixon meets Elvis Presley
Salvador Dali meets Sigmund Freud
The Duchess of Windsor meets Adolf Hitler
Mark Twain meets Helen Keller
Madonna meets Michael Jackson

With his usual wit, Craig Brown adds more coincidence to these tales: “…To lend a pattern to a book that revolves around chance and to insert a note of order into the otherwise haphazard, I have described each of the 101 meetings in exactly 1001 words, which makes Hello Goodbye Hello 101,101 words long. The acknowledgements, prefacing notes, note to the U.S. edition, book description, authors biography, and the list of my other books each consist of 101 words, as does this note.”

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