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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The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon, author of Everything, Everything, returns with a new novel! The Sun is Also a Star tells a story from multiple perspectives. There are the main characters, Natasha and Daniel, as well as some of the minor players in their story that they encounter along the way.

When the story begins, Natasha is  fighting to stay in America. Her family is facing deportation back to Jamaica. Daniel, who’s family immigrated from South Korea, is on his way to an interview for an Ivy League university.

After a serendipitous meet-cute, Natasha and Daniel strike up an unlikely friendship – and perhaps more – on what is to be her last day in America. Natasha doesn’t believe in fate or destiny, and not even in God, really, so she is not going to let herself focus on Daniel and give up her fight.

Daniel, a poet, has his head filled with romantic ideas about how this day would be the story that he tells his future children when they ask about how their parents had met. The two part ways and are drawn back together multiple times throughout the day, each time with Daniel asking himself if that meant that they were meant to be together.

Yoon’s writing is realistic and wonderful. Daniel and Natasha, along with the cast of supporting characters who lend their voices to the story, are fully fleshed out with backstories, hopes, dreams, and dilemmas. As adorable as it sounds, remember that this is NOT a fairy tale! The Sun is Also a Star has a wonderful stream of conscious style to it that draws you in and will not let you go until the last page has been turned.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Sun is Also a Star.

 


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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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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 Iron Druid Chronicles, by Kevin Hearne

hounded-iron-druid-hearneI love books written in series because they give you a chance to really get to know the characters and to delve deeply into the world they inhabit. I recently ran across Hounded, the first title in Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles, and proceeded to binge-read every title in the series. The series does all I ask for with well-crafted plotlines, good world-building, and memorable characters that you root for, including a magically enhanced Irish wolfhound. Plus, there is mythology—lots of it.

Atticus O’Sullivan (his actual Gaelic name looks terrifying to pronounce, but is included in a handy pronunciation guide) is the last druid alive and is at least 2000 years old. Before the Romans exterminated all the Druids left in Ireland, Britain, and Gaul, he escaped in order to be able to fulfill his destiny, to protect Gaia. He now lives in Tempe, Arizona, and takes care of the lands around there while avoiding the attentions of the gods.

Gods? Yes, gods. Hearne’s world-building is masterful, blending all the pantheons in a multiverse sort of way, with the Irish gods, Norse gods, and Greco-Roman gods featuring prominently in the stories. There are also witches, vampires, and werewolves. As Atticus is Irish, most of his dealings are with the Tuatha de Danann, the Irish pantheon of deities. He is under Morrigan’s protection, and as such, is a pawn in their pantheon’s plots and machinations. As gods do, they act through other, less deific agents on earth, and so the first few books deal with the magical inhabitants of the Tempe area. Later adventures involve many other pantheons, including even Ganesh the elephant-headed Hindu god.

Atticus has friends, especially his Irish wolfhound, Oberon. Oberon is magically enhanced and carries on hilarious telepathic conversations with Atticus from a dog’s worldview. Atticus’ legal affairs are taken care of by, of course, a vampire and werewolf. As the series progresses, he adds an apprentice, Granuaile (pronounced gran ya wail, if you want to know) whose decade-long training is interrupted with adventures through seven books.

The stories are full of humor, adventure, and the occasional throwdown between gods and mortals. The books’ events follow in sequence, so they really need to be read in order. Atticus is both brash and human, despite his advanced age. His good intentions occasionally go awry, but they make him likable.  The mixing of the various pantheons allows for magic, science, and deific powers to coexist seamlessly, and even with some broad humor. I enjoyed the series thoroughly and look forward to more of Atticus and Granuaile’s adventures.

Check the PPLC Catalog for:

Book 1: Hounded
Book 2: Hexed
Book 3: Hammered
Book 4: Tricked
Book 5: Trapped
Book 6: Hunted
Book 7: Shattered
Book 8: Staked


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The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

wild-robot-brownWhen Roz the robot is shipwrecked on a tiny island, she has only her basic programming to guide her. Roz is not built for the outdoors, but she is designed to be adaptable, thoughtful, and intelligent, and she soon realizes that her best hope for survival is to learn and gain support from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. Gaining the animal’s trust takes time and it’s only when she tries to care for an orphaned gosling that the other animals finally decide to help her. The island starts to feel like home to Roz until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown’s first novel. Brown, known for his children’s picture books, such as Children Make Terrible Pets, has totally succeeded in producing an utterly charming first novel. Though The Wild Robot starts off slow, once Roz learns the language of the animals, the story flourishes. The animals of the island all have big personalities and Roz begins to form friendships with them, like with Chitchat the squirrel and Loudwing the goose. Roz solicits their help to care for the gosling Brightbill who she becomes a mother to. Roz and Brightbill eventually become invaluable members of the island community. Roz even helps the animals survive through a grueling winter by teaching them to make fire.

This book has been compared to Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. Readers who enjoy these types of survivalist stories will definitely be drawn into Roz’s tale. It could also be compared to Stuart Little. Both are stories about extraordinary protagonists who don’t quite belong and through adventure and perseverance make a life for themselves. Lovers of these types of stories as well as both robot and animal lovers will find something to delight in here. For adult readers, The Wild Robot makes a great parenting story and the philosophical questions that naturally arise between robot Roz and living animal Brightbill can be in turns both fun and thoughtful. With such a wide appeal, Brown’s book can also be enjoyed together as a read aloud for younger children. No one should miss out on this sparkling book!

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Wild Robot.


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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.