Books in the Park

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


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Books We’re Thankful For

What does it mean to be thankful for a book?

Is it the first book you remember reading? First books are often the catalyst for a lifetime of reading.  The first story you read may have guided you to a career path, a new interest, or helped you bond with someone special. It could have jump-started the habit of reading, which enlarged your vocabulary, improved your reading comprehension, and transformed books from objects into companions. The first book I remember reading is Little Bear’s Birthday Soup by Else Minarik. little bearIt’s the story of how Little Bear thinks no-one remembers his birthday, so he invites all his friends to share in birthday soup. The ingredients list of the soup inspired me to make a soup of mine, thus beginning a life-long love of cooking.

Is it a book that is important to you personally? Some books resonate with us on a personal level, reflecting experiences we’ve had while also pointing us towards new ways of looking at solutions. They can connect us through the story to others, making us feel less alone. They can also give us courage to live our lives in a better way.

Jennifer: I am most thankful for the book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It is about a young girl from a prestigious family who is set to sail from her boarding school in England to America where her family awaits her. Charlotte’s apathetic guardian hurries her aboard the ‘Seahawk’ against the warnings of multiple people that this particular ship is too dangerous for a 13 year old to travel on unaccompanied.

After they set sail, the very innocent Charlotte trusts the captain with some information she shouldn’t and gets a friend in serious trouble.  While protecting her friend, Charlotte accidentally injures the Captain, after which he refuses her protection, leaving her to fend for herself in the brutish environment aboard the ship.

By voluntarily taking on the role of a fallen shipmate, Charlotte gains the respect of the crew but the hatred of the Captain who feels she has become unnatural in acting as a charlotte doyleman. As tensions come to a head, lies and betrayal from those around her force Charlotte to fight for her life against the Captain who was supposed to be protecting her.

In the end, Charlotte defeats the Captain and takes command of the ship. Once they arrive in America, Charlotte must decide what kind of life she wants to live: a life of pretty dresses among a stuffy family she hasn’t seen in years or living a life of danger on the seas with her crew mates.

I read this book when I was in elementary school and it taught me that you can accomplish things that seem impossible if you work hard and don’t give up. I also learned that you should have your friend’s backs even if it could get you into trouble and that you don’t have to believe the things people say about you as long as you believe in yourself.

Is it a book that changed your life? When a book give you a new direction, or knocks off the rust of daily living and refreshes your perspective, it can be powerful.

Bonnie: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. This was the first “self-help” book that I read voluntarily (Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was required reading in Library School).  bonnie

Johnson stresses the importance of adapting to change.  In the end, it takes more energy to resist change than it does to accept it, face your fears and move forward. When I first read this book, I was unhappy with my position in the library and unsure how to remedy the situation. A friend suggested this book to me.  After reading this book, I realized that what I needed was the courage to change my situation. I went back to Library School, finished my degree, and became a Senior Librarian.

AnnMarieendersgame_2I am thankful to Ender’s Game. The plot twist toward the end of the story had a huge impact on me as a kid and resonates with me to this day. Not only did this book teach me how easy it is to be manipulated and lied to, but it simultaneously illustrated the dangers of treating anyone and anything as “Other”.

Is it a book that you recommend to others? daveSome books are so well-written that you want others to enjoy them. Pat Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is such a book for me.  His craft, careful plotting, and polished prose reaffirmed my trust in an author, and the voyage his story takes you on is like no other. He takes typical fantasy tropes and turns them on their head and reinvigorates them, and in the process echoes some of my favorite books.

Is a book you continually re-read? Books can sometimes offer a comforting or enjoyable head-space that we revisit again and again.

JosieJosie: I am grateful for the Adventure Time comics. I’ve been reading these over the past month and they are so charming and silly. I read for all kinds of reasons but, these comics have been pure escapism for me.

Is it a book that reminds you of a time in your life that is important to you?

William: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli31fk1Qk54ZL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

My seventh grade teacher would read excerpts from this book to the entire class and I was intrigued. This went on for about a week, but as a class we didn’t finish the book. We just moved on. My family was going through a divorce at the same time and we were about to be relocated off the military base in Heidelberg, Germany. It never crossed my mind to finish the book until I had already graduated from High School. I read it. Loved it. I’m thankful that I still go back to books I left behind in my past.

Whatever the reason, books give back to us in many ways.

On this day of giving thanks, tell us about the books you are thankful for.


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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.


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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.

 


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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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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.


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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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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!