Books in the Park

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


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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 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.


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Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

As a reader, I often range wide in getting my reading fix, and find myself following many authors’ blogs. Ones that are clearly creations of a publisher’s marketing department I quickly unfollow, but there are many authors whose unique voice resonates on their blogs as in their writing.

Which brings me to Chuck Wendig, an author whose blog I’ve followed for years. He writes about politics, his son, food, games and the gaming industry, but, mostly, about writing. He is irreverent and funny and, occasionally, not safe for work (visit his blog terribleminds.com with that in mind).

Having read his blog and followed him on Twitter for years, I was talking with another reader about how I liked reading author blogs, and recommended Chuck to him. Then I got the question: “What has he written?” I was stumped, and more than a little horrified that this talented author’s works had slipped past me.

Which brings me to Blackbirds. It is the first in the Miriam Black series, which follows the main character through her trials and tribulations in Mockingbird, Cormorant, and Thunderbird.

Miriam Black is in her early twenties and she knows how everyone dies. With skin-to-skin contact, she gets a vision of the death of anyone she touches. Whether death comes by car crash, suicide, heart attack, the lingering death of cancer or illness, Miriam need only touch a person to see their end. As you can imagine, this messes with Miriam’s head, and she wanders through America, surviving by dead-end jobs, scamming and hitching rides, and generally scraping along the fringes of society.

When she is picked up by a trucker named Louis, she shakes his hand and discovers to her horror that he will die a horrible death in thirty days while calling her name. The thing is – she’s tried to affect outcome of her visions in the past, and those interventions have led directly to the outcome she foresaw.

Careening between trying to avoid Louis and trying to help him, shadowy, evil figures act against her until fate, hope, love, greed, and evil come together in the final scene.

Wendig’s writing is crisp without being wordy, moving the story along quickly. The story flashes from the past, where the narrative takes place, to an interview Miriam Black is giving about her gift in the present. Miriam describes the events as a way to explain both her gift and its implications.

Miriam, as a character, has an excellent back story that reveals itself over time in intense scenes scattered throughout her young life. The other characters are well-drawn, and some are frightening in their amorality and approach to conflict. This is a gritty read and sometimes very violent. Wendig’s plotting and dialogue are tight, and you read from scene to scene with an impending sense of doom for all involved.

So, now I’ve read a book by Chuck Wendig, and I think you should too. Blackbirds is a great read from beginning to end, and the author makes you are about the characters, despite their flaws and baggage. As always with a series, if you like the character, you have more to read and watch the character evolve.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Blackbirds.

Find this title at your local library via WorldCat.


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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 Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

other-peoples-houses

I really enjoy books that take me to a time or place very different from my own. Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese is one such title, with its tale of a young Native American man reconnecting with his father.  The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is another such book.  The setting in Alaska’s early days of statehood, its environment of rough-and-ready native hunting and fishing families, and its narrative related by four very different voices from four very different perspectives really succeed in placing the reader in that different time and place.

Four children’s perspectives are woven throughout this story, which is broken into the events of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Ruth suffered the loss of one parent to a plane crash, then another as her mother loses her mind from grief. Dora wants to get out of her life, but doesn’t trust her luck when it happens. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away from home than to stay, and Alyce works hard practicing dancing but her hard work on her father’s fishing boat threatens to keep her from her dreams—or does it?

What’s notable in this book is the children’s assumption of agency. At some point, they take control of their lives. They have seen what their lives are and know it is up to them to embrace or reject the status quo. With this, the characters all play a role in other characters’ lives, whether it’s as an instigator, a beacon of hope, or a fellow traveler in their lives’ journeys. The gentle interaction between all their stories remind us that we can all be catalysts for each other, even though we suspect we have nothing to offer.

This book works as a coming of age story (well, four coming of ages) as well as a peek into another life and world that can illuminate our own. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s narrative is well constructed and solidly grounded in Alaskan life. Good authors can make a setting feel real, but great authors make you feel as if you are there. Read this book and be transported to 1970s Alaska—you won’t regret it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Smell of Other People’s Houses.


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Star Wars: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka

before-awakening-ruckaHave you caught Star Wars fever? Well then now is a great time to explore the new expanded universe with one of the first additions in the book series. Star Wars: Before the Awakening takes us into the lives of Stormtrooper FN-2187 (later called Finn), scavenger Rey, and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron before the events of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This story is available exclusively to readers.

The book is broken up into three parts and has amazing illustrations of the main characters. It begins with FN-2187, who has received top marks in all of his training as a Stormtrooper, and introduces some of his comrades.

Next, travel to Jakku to learn more about the mysterious scavenger, Rey. She was deserted on the desert planet at a very young age and needed to learn to fend for herself. She finds ship parts and trades them for food and even builds herself a computer with a simulation program to learn how to fly spaceships.

The last character that we are introduced to is Poe, the best pilot in the New Republic Navy. Poe tells his commanders what a threat the First Order presents, but they dismiss his fears. Seeing what Poe is up to, General (formerly Princess) Leia Organa recruits him to fight for the resistance.

I would recommend this book for readers in middle or high school. It was definitely an entertaining read and it was nice to learn more about the new characters. Happy reading and may the Force be with you!

Check the PPLC Catalog for Star Wars: Before the Awakening.


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Armageddon Summer, by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville

In summer of 2016, we asked our patrons for book reviews as part of our adult summer reading raffle. We have chosen the cream of the crop to feature here on our blog.

This review is by Anne Wi.

armageddon summer yolenI was not sure what to expect when I first started this book, but I was quickly sucked in; I REALLY enjoyed it!

The story is told from 13 (almost 14) year-old Marina, a teen stuck in a cult-like religious group because of her parents (who are separated). The Pastor of their “group” tells them that the end of the world coming soon, the date of which just so happens to be on Marina’s 14th birthday. The Believers, 144 of them because that is how many the Pastor said are needed, are ushered to the top of a mountain where they are told that they will survive Armageddon. Marina meets an unlikely friend named Jed, and they quickly form a tight friendship.

I do not want to give too much away, but this is a must-read book, and a wonderful tale of friendship, love, and religious confusion.

Do you think the world will end in this book? You will just have to read it for yourself.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Armageddon Summer.