Books in the Park

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

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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 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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Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2016)

ash-evil-deadAsh Williams, general deadbeat and failure, has a secret. As a youth, Ash witnessed his friends murdered and then possessed by an unspeakable evil. Summoning every ounce of his strength, he was able to push that evil back where it came from and keep the world safe. In the present day, after a drunken party trick gone wrong, Ash has unleashed the evil into the world again, and those evil forces are gunning for revenge.

If you haven’t already seen first three Evil Dead films, let me warn you: this series is incredibly gory. However, despite the literal blood and guts flying all over the place, the show remains light, campy, and a little irreverent. Ash vs. the Evil Dead remains true to the spirit of the films—that is to say tastelessly gruesome.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ash Vs. Evil Dead.

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick

forgive me quickJust thought I’d clear the air and tell you that this is my favorite book that I’ve read all year. I’m totally biased and will only say awesome things about this book and the author.

It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he’s eating breakfast alone. His rockstar father left a few years back and his ex-model mom is so obsessed with her career in fashion that she’s totally forgotten this momentous day. Leonard has special plans for his first day as an adult: he’s going to murder his former best friend and then kill himself with a Nazi pistol he inherited from his grandfather. But before he can complete this murder/suicide, he must hand-deliver four gifts to the people to whom he wishes to say goodbye. These four individuals are all vastly different and have impacted Leonard’s life in ways he struggles to fully understand but must acknowledge before he ends his life. Leonard, prior to his birthday, would often take days off school to dress up in a suit and ride the train. From there he’d find the most miserable looking adult on their way to work and follow them hoping for insights into adulthood. Leonard is not buying the whole “It gets better” campaign. When not on the train he exclusively hangs out with his elderly neighbor watching old Bogart movies or writes letters from his future self/family to his present self. Leonard’s mind is cluttered and often his thoughts and words are not expressed in the way he’d like which often makes other people uncomfortable.

As we follow Leonard through the delivery of his parting gifts, the history of his mental instability is made clear and we see how he struggles to rationalize the killing of an old friend and himself. There are several nods to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings not just in direct reference but also in dialog and choice of words like “uber morons”. While Forgive Me does have a lot of humor and fantastical moments, it does not skim over the severity of what Leonard plans to do. Quick has done something pretty unique here by writing a story from the side of a potential murderer. He clearly does not take this topic lightly and does a fine job addressing issues that most people are too squeamish to even think about. I recommend this title to those who liked We Need to Talk About Kevin, those interested in the effects of mental illness, and those looking for a great story of perseverance but aren’t too weak in the knees.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.

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Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight

reconstructing ameliaGrace Hall is not your typical high school. Very expensive and elite, the kids who graduate from this prep school go on to get Ivy League educations and work for Fortune 500 companies. Amelia has always been a hardworking and intelligent student who chose to stick with her quirky best friend instead of seeking popularity. But when Amelia is singled out to join the Maggies, a secret sorority, and her BFF isn’t, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Can she tell her mother, Kate, about the escalating hazing she must endure or about how she might just be in love? Kate is high-power attorney for an aggressive law firm in Manhattan. She doesn’t have a lot of free time but does her best to schedule weekly activities with Amelia. Kate is not proud of her past and has tried very hard since Amelia’s birth to overcome an overwhelming mistake. Things are going well for their little family; Amelia is excelling in school and Kate just landed a big case. But then, in the blink of an eye, Amelia is dead. Ruled a suicide, Kate must reconstruct her daughter’s life through e-mails, texts, and sordid websites to figure out just what exactly happened to her perfect daughter.

I really enjoyed this title because it rode the line between YA and adult mystery. It has these awesome little excerpts from an online gossip newsletter called gRaCeFULLY that are just hilarious. It confronts school bullying without being too preachy and has plenty of drama for young and old alike. Genuinely compelling and reminiscent of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, I recommend this title to those that love a little twist in their stories.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Reconstructing Amelia.

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Lady Killer #1, by Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones

lady killer richLady Killer is a magnificent play on words that draws you into the story of Josie Schuller, the lady who is a killer. Josie is a perfect 1950s-era housewife and mother who is also, secretly, a trained assassin.

The book opens with an Avon lady calling on a homemaker client in the afternoon. Innocuous, sure. Very June Cleaver. Then we see the Avon lady slip something into the housewife’s drink and we get a taste of the brutality Josie is capable of as the poisoning attempt fails and she is forced to improvise the successful conclusion of her contract.

The running joke is the balancing act of a life of homemaking when the husband is home and murder when he leaves for work. Early in the tale, this life is threatened by assassin-for-hire politics and a nosy mother in law. The breakneck pace of the story takes you from mission to mission, interleaved with Josie’s perfectly coiffed housewife persona, lipstick un-smudged. Her mother-in-law’s sordid suspicions of infidelity are hilarious when compared with the dark reality of Josie’s wet work side job.

The graphics are perfect, underscoring the clean with the brutally messy and lending a counterpoint to the story. The background scenery is quintessential 50s décor and style. Setting the comic in that era of squeaky-clean nuclear family life with its underlying Cold War paranoia and clandestine chaos is a telling commentary on how we can look back at an era with rose-colored glasses. Lady Killer has just published its fifth issue, each as entertaining as the one before. Be aware, some of the scenes are graphic.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Lady Killer.

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Easy Rider (1969)

81isguE0P0L._SL1500_Free-spirited motorcycle riders Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) have just completed the drug deal of a lifetime and set out on a journey across the country to reach New Orleans. Along the way, the pair encounter hippie communes, small-town bigots, and one particular ACLU lawyer by the name of George Hanson (Jack Nicholson). What starts as a road trip to find freedom in the promised land of liberty eventually turns into a drug addled race just to survive.

Easy Rider is the film that taught Hollywood studios to love the low-budget counterculture flick. What started out as a way for Peter Fonda to fulfill his contractual obligation to provide one last schlocky, biker-exploitation film for the B-film studio AIP, ended up as a piece of cinema that combined big Hollywood resources with the French New Wave influences of an emerging generation of young, auteur filmmakers. Fonda and Hopper convincingly play their roles as they carve their way across beautiful American vistas to the pounding rhythms of period icons like Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, and Steppenwolf. If that was all Easy Rider had to offer, it would still be worthwhile, but the performances and themes are similarly captivating. Especially excellent is Jack Nicholson as American everyman George Hanson. Nicholson’s energy is infectious and his musings on the nature of freedom flesh out the themes of the film from an intriguing perspective. As Billy and Wyatt continue their difficult journey, a blueprint of the freedom promised by the hippy generation emerges, and it’s ultimate failure seems despairingly visible. A definite recommendation.

Rated R.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Easy Rider.

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Housebound (2014)

housebound-posterAfter a failed attempt to steal the safe out of an ATM, Kylie is sentenced to eight months house arrest under the care of her mother. Frankly, Kylie would rather be in jail. Kylie’s life is now a vision of Hell, with her hovering mother, her out of touch step-father, the badgering technician who tracks her ankle monitor, and a condescending social worker who is handling Kylie’s “recovery”. However, as bad as it may seem now, the situation is about to get much worse… because Kylie’s house is haunted.

This film is about as heartwarming as a horror movie can get, and I call it the “most horrifying family film ever”. Every character is just so lovable, despite their glaring faults. The relationship between Kylie and the people around her is especially beautiful, and watching them bond over ghosts, and historic murders is glorious. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a coming of age drama, there is more spooky violence and comedy than there is sappy mother/daughter bonding. Kylie’s growth is very subtle, but it is an integral part of the story, it adds a very human element that keeps the comedy and horror from becoming overly cheap. All in all, Housebound is scary, funny, and the perfect film to watch with your parents.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Housebound.