Books in the Park

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


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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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Library Playlist: The Expanse (2015 – )

expanse-season-oneI adore science fiction television, but lately it doesn’t seem as if it loves me back. Far too much of what’s appearing on TV right now is either dreadfully boring or so cheap and unconvincing that it looks like a craft project rather than a major television series. I get that this stuff is tricky, but aren’t we past the era when set design consisted of papier-mâché and Christmas lights? Yeah, there are a bounty of decent superhero shows right now, but fans of hard sci-fi like myself know that they don’t really count. Mix all that mediocrity with a new Star Trek series whose release date is about as fixed as a mirage and it’s easy to become discouraged. Imagine my surprise then that the SyFy Channel had paused from making Sharknado sequels to give us something pretty good. It’s time to rejoice: The Expanse is the space drama that we’ve been owed for some time now.

It’s two hundred years in the future, and humanity has spread throughout the Solar System. Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) has taken on the task of locating the now missing Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). Meanwhile, the destruction of the ice hauler Canterbury forces Executive Officer James Holden (Steven Strait) to make decisions that will embroil him and his crew in the midst of a potential interplanetary conflict. Back on Earth, the United Nations executive Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) hopes to stop a war before it begins. Soon, all three will discover that their paths converge upon a massive conspiracy, one that could have dire consequences for humanity.

Like complex political intrigue set against the backdrop of space? The Expanse might just be for you, with beautiful ships, celestial bodies, and space vistas augmenting a clever story of interplanetary intrigue. Still not convinced? How about rousing performances from a talented cast? Thomas Jane is awesome fun to watch as the cocky, hard-luck Miller, and Shohreh Aghdashloo is delightfully cunning as U.N. high official Avasarala. No doubt, The Expanse is a quality series, but it’s also an effort that is long overdue for the SyFy channel. In this golden era of TV, SyFy and its frequently lackluster attempts at dramatic television were always a disappointing oddity. Hopefully, The Expanse is not a fluke and we can expect more like it. Highly Recommended.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Expanse.


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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.


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Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner

good bed weinerWhat do you do when your recent ex calls you out in a newspaper column with his insights on “loving a larger woman”? Candance “Cannie” Shapiro is faced with this in the middle of other life events, and we get to watch her navigate her way through love, friendship, career woes, and body image and daddy issues—all while the bright light of low-level notoriety shines upon her.

Cannie Shapiro has recently broke up with Bruce when he publishes his column about their relationship. Everyone in her circle knows whom he is referring to, and she is embarrassed and hurt. When she confronts him about it, it goes about as well as you can imagine. Soon after an ill-considered liaison at Bruce’s father’s funeral, Cannie decides to take charge of her life. She joins a weight-loss program, decides to get a screenplay published, and pushes through her life’s difficulties.

This is a good attitude, because the hits keep coming. She isn’t able to join the weight loss group (for reasons that I won’t spoil), but gets out to LA to discuss a treatment of her screenplay. She lives the good life in LA for a while, but there still is a tether to her previous relationship with Bruce that keeps pulling her in different directions. A tragedy leads to a revelation near the end of the book, and… You know, while writing this I keep needing to censor myself so as to not give spoilers, so. There are twists and turns, happy and sad, and it’s all wonderful so read it.

This book is about navigating life, with all its joys and tribulations. Things don’t always go the way Cannie imagines they will, but her stick-to-it-ness and chutzpah fuels her transformation and allows her to re-focus on herself and worry less about the noise around her. It’s well-plotted, and the engaging main character and her all-too-real tribulations make this an uplifting read.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Good in Bed.


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Independence Day (1996)

independeceWith all my complaining about Hollywood and its seemingly endless stream of mediocre, CGI-driven action flicks, you’d think I’d hate this one. Surely, the guy who posts reviews for aging black and white films from the ’40s could never appreciate the absurd spectacle of something like Independence Day.

Well, you’d be dead wrong.

The world needs silly, witty action spectacles, and therein lies the key difference between something like this and a Taken 3 or Transformers. Crazy action films really benefit from lightheartedness or else they tend to be grim and eyeroll-inducing. The very fate of humanity hangs in the balance in ID4, but the film never feels morose. Instead, there’s plenty of wisecracking, satire, and humorous moments to lighten the mood. Smith, Goldblum, and Quaid can all pull off action sequences with ease, but they’re also talented performers that can sell the more humorous bits of the script. Helping push the action along are the excellent practical effects (explosions!) along with a light touch of CGI. Heck, it even has Brent Spiner playing a slightly deranged scientist. How great is that? Yeah, this one’s kind of jingoistic at times, but it’s too big of a goof to get upset with. Enjoy it this July 4th, preferably with friends.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Independence Day.


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Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies

fifth business deptford trilogy davies

It’s Canada Day, and we’re celebrating with our neighbors to the north by recommending this distinctly Canadian masterpiece.

Robertson Davies is one of Canada’s best writers, and any book of his you read will be amazing. Fifth Business is the about how a child’s carelessness leads to the ruin of multiple lives and begins a middle-aged obsession.

It opens with the event—Dunstan Ramsay is a young boy in a Canadian town. His best friend and sparring partner in childhood, Percy Staunton, throws a snowball it him while quarreling. Dunstan ducks, and the snowball hits Mary Dempster, the pregnant wife of the local minister. The shock causes her to give birth to a premature child and unhinges her mind.

The book follows Dunstan’s life from there. As a young boy, Dunstan experiences both fascination and pity for the wife, as well as guilt about the premature child and immerses himself in his study of the saints.

Later, Dunstan fights in World War I and spends an extensive time as an invalid. He begins to believe that Mary may be a fool-saint. He returns home to find that Percy has prospered in the war, and the two become friends.

The guilt Dunstan feels is exacerbated by Percy’s successes, and comes to a horrible climax where all the events from the past swirl around like angry ghosts.

Robertson Davies is a writer of amazing depth and lyrical language. His layered storytelling invokes Jungian archetypes and synchronicity, in addition to religious and societal themes. This is not an easy read, but a very rewarding one.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fifth Business.


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The Mark of Zorro (1940)

zorroMention the word ‘remake’ in the context of modern Hollywood and you’re likely to find yourself on the blunt end of an opinion – or three. It’s not surprising; over the last several years theaters have been inundated with a variety of controversial and sometimes disappointing remakes. Films like Robocop, Point Break, and Godzilla have pushed the remake trend to the extreme and upset many moviegoers along the way with their questionable quality. Things weren’t always like this. Don’t get me wrong, the motion picture industry has a long history of remakes, but maybe the practice wasn’t as cynical and focused on the bottom line. One great example from the golden age of Hollywood? The riveting 1940 remake of The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Basil Rathbone.

Dashing aristocrat Don Diego Vega (Power) returns from Spain to his native California only to discover that his father, previously the magistrate of Los Angeles, has been replaced by the villainous Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and his Captain of the Guard, Esteban Pasquale (Rathbone). To his friends and family, the junior Vega comes off as foppish and uncaring, more interested in the latest Spanish fashions than the suffering of the poor. In reality, Vega has been striking back against the corrupt Quintero by donning a black mask and taking up the sword, becoming the mysterious figure Zorro. The well-being of the peoples of California hang in the balance while Zorro strikes fear into the hearts of their oppressors.

With its rousing swordplay, quick wit, and perfect enunciation, this is classic Hollywood in fine form. Tyrone Power as Zorro cuts a dashing figure, and although he cannot deliver snappy comebacks quite like an Errol Flynn, his talented swordplay more than makes up for it. In fact, Basil Rathbone, who was himself a talented fencer, even stated that “Tyrone Power could fence Errol Flynn into a cocked hat!” The film makes the most of these fine actors by utilizing the talents of Hollywood fencing master Fred Cavens who specialized in staging more realistic fights that eschewed the stylized leaping and furniture-hopping seen previously. The choice works, and every fight feels genuinely dangerous in a way few swordfights from this period do.  Linda Darnell is a perfectly fine heroine, but the actress who really steals the show is Gale Sondergaard playing the sly, conniving Inez Quintero. Her scheming is delightful to watch and makes for some great moments when paired with Power.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Mark of Zorro.