Books in the Park

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


Leave a comment

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Every so often a science fiction author will have such an interesting, refreshing take on world-building that it makes you look at reality in a different way. The Hexarchate of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machinery of Empire series (of which Ninefox Gambit is the first) is such a universe. Organizing an entire space-faring culture around the effects of the calendar on genetics to enhance battle prowess is a unique and fascinating way to world-build a universe.

The book opens with Captain Kel Cheris winning a battle using unorthodox methods which put her at risk of being declared a heretic, a dangerous place for a young officer. She is allowed to redeem herself by the Hexarchate with a near-suicidal task of retaking a fallen space fortress. When asked what weapon systems she wants, she chooses an unusual way to win – she selects the mind of a brilliant, but dead general as her weapon. The one hitch – the general went insane after his last battle.

By adding this second mind to hers (in short, the process results in a constant conversation in her head between the general and herself), Cheris has the difficult task of taking advantage of the general’s prowess in battle without becoming too sympathetic to the general. It proves difficult because the general is, of all things, kind to her and helpful, belying the historical record of the mad general.

Filled with space battles and high stakes mathematical “calendar” calculations, the story unfolds as the general teases out Cheris’ feelings about the Hexarchate and the state of the world since he died. Lee is brilliant at explaining his universe without getting in the way of the story.  Through action, conversations and flashbacks, you find out details of calendrical warfare, the different races of the Hexarchate, as well as historical details about the general’s past and the events leading up to his last battle. The characters are sympathetic and have clear, if conflicting desires. The story of the Hexarchate continues in the next book, the Raven Stratagem.


Leave a comment

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

When I think of authors who have a “voice” that I always enjoy, I turn to John Scalzi. I’ve read everything he’s written, and even reviewed a few already on this blog.  His writing is conversational, clever, and snarky. He writes stories that move along at a quick pace, and he excels at writing the “thought experiment” novel.  “Lock In” is a perfect example, positing a disease that “locks in” sufferers to their bodies while their mind is active. He is brilliant at building the world around his experiment – what would society be like if this was true? How would governments, medicine, and daily life change if this happened? His exploration of that new world builds with the story and characters of his novel, and often uncovers unusual twists that surprise at the end.  The Collapsing Empire is like this – a giant What If? space travel depended on a “Flow” between worlds that allows interstellar travel. How would planets be colonized? What would government be like? What would happen if the Flow wasn’t stable?

The book opens with Cardenia, whose father’s death was unfortunately preceded by the deaths of his heirs – except for Cardenia. She inherits the title of Emprox of the Interdependency and a problem unknown to the rest of her empire. Her unexpected rise to power also proves a challenge, as she is now marriage material for the most powerful families in the empire. She navigates this as best she can while trying to uncover the plots and schemes around her.

Meanwhile, on the farthest possible planet from Cardenia’s, events are unfolding in a backwater world that suddenly has immense significance. A fitful civil war escalates into a conflict involving all the players in the center of the Interdependency. We meet all the characters that we know will play large roles in the future of the empire.

Scalzi’s pacing is fluid and the action moves along swiftly. His characters are interesting, funny and sometimes a little bit scary. We know this title is the first in a series, and there is a little bit of framing for the story to follow, but the read is so entertaining that the framing fades into the background. A nice read to start off the series.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Collapsing Empire.

 


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

binti-okoraforWe here at the Barbara S. Ponce Library are big fans of the works of Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, especially her novel Who Fears Death, which, in 2011, made her the first black person to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Okorafor has proved herself to be a major player in the science fiction world, and no self-respecting scifi fan should miss the chance to pick up her work.

Binti is a novella set in a universe where starships are living technology and multiple races interact on a galactic scale. When the titular Himba woman is offered a scholarship at the most prestigious intergalactic university, family strife about her selection and her decision to accept it cause her to abandon her family without warning. She finds herself on a living starship with many people from many cultures, and is intimidated by their strangeness until she finds commonality with fellow students in her field.

She has barely started feeling at home when a terrifying event changes the course of her life, and she is thrust into a war of intolerance and revenge. Her academic gifts and understanding of the experience of strangeness, linked with her compassion, make her a key player in creating a new future.

Okorafor uses her deep knowledge of African culture and religion to flesh out the interactions between individuals. Her descriptions of the Himba people and their practices reflected through her protagonist are used to show the many differences, and eventually, the many commonalities all peoples share. Binti’s thoughts are laid bare for the reader, and we struggle as she struggles, and fear when she fears. Her talent is a key part of the story, and she steps into her new life while respecting her past.

Binti has won both the Hugo and the Nebula Award for short fiction. While Binti is a short novella, there are two more to be published in the series.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Binti.


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

2016 Year in Review

2016favorites-tinypng

2016 has been a good year for our blog; hits and comments are up from last year. We hope our spot in cyberspace has helped someone out there find a really good book or movie to enjoy.

Listed here are our favorite books, movies, and music that we enjoyed in 2016. While some of these titles aren’t new this year, it’s never too late for a good recommendation.

First, the 2016 favorites from our patrons. These stats were collected from checkouts countywide.

Most checked out fiction book:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Most checked out nonfiction book:
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Most checked out DVD:
Downton Abbey Season Six

And now staff shares their favorite books, movies, and music that they loved in 2016.

Cathy
Book: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music: Blackstar by David Bowie

Toni
Book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Movie: Moana
Music: The Hamilton Mixtape by various artists

Andrew
Book: Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman
Movie: The Nice Guys
Music: Emotional Mugger by Ty Segall

Mike
Book: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis
Movie: Race
Music: “Growing Up” from the album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

AnnMarie
Book: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Movie: Zootopia
Music: “Don’t Wanna Fight” from the album Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Bret:
Book: Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Erin
Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Dave
Book: Fool by Christopher Moore

Bonnie
Book: Pure by Julianna Baggot

Tony
Book: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Beth
Book: Bindi Babes by Narinder Dham

Bonus:
Looking to read more books in 2017? Joining a reading challenge is a great way to stay motivated and read a wider range of authors and subjects. There are many challenges out there, but this Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges is very comprehensive. Prepare to be literally inspired.

Happy New Year 2017, everyone!


Leave a comment

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.