Books in the Park

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


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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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I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I will raise my hand and say that, while I love adventure stories, I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries or crime stories. When I picked up I Am Princess X after seeing it recommended in our #ReadersUnite video I was drawn to the fierce Princess X character on the cover and decided to give it a shot.

The book hooks you instantly by detailing the curious friendship of Libby and May. Their friendship grows from one of circumstance to one of true sisterhood. They seem to spend every minute together creating their character, Princess X. The creative process stopped, however, when tragedy struck. Libby and her mother died in a car accident. May could no longer bring herself to write Princess X and her story died with Libby…

Or so May thought. One day, May sees a sticker with a princess character that looks exactly how Libby had drawn Princess X. Then she sees another, and another, and another. She finds out from someone sporting a Princess X patch on his bag that it’s from a popular web comic.

After reading the comic, May knows in her heart that Libby must be alive somewhere and creating more Princess X stories. With the help of a computer savvy friend, she tries to track down the creator to see if it really is her friend or someone who bought the stories from the thrift store where Libby’s father had sent all of his daughter’s belongings. What she finds is an adventure worthy of Princess X herself that puts May, her friends, and family into harm’s way.

Panels of the web comic are sprinkled throughout the novel to help guide the story, so I highly recommend reading the book instead of the audio book! The panels are wonderfully illustrated by Kali Ciesemier.

Pick up a copy of I am Princess X to find out what happens!


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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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Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

ghost-reynoldsMiddle schooler Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is obsessed with two things: sunflower seeds and the Guinness Book of World Records. He knows a lot of the records by heart, including the fact that some guy named Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world—but that doesn’t mean he cares about track. In fact, running drudges up a traumatic memory: running for his life from his gun-wielding father.

His father has been in jail for three years now, but not a day goes by that Ghost doesn’t think about that horrible night. He can’t talk about it and puts up emotional walls that only alienate him from his peers. Despite being a good kid at heart, he gets into a lot of fights when his buttons are pressed. But his lonely, misunderstood life changes when the school’s track coach sees amazing potential in him and compels him to join the team.

Ghost doesn’t always make the right choices along the way to finding himself, which is what makes him such a great character to read about. His thoughts and actions ring true, and a lot of readers will be able to relate to his feelings. The fantastic role models in his life help to orient him morally with good advice and fitting punishments.

This is the first book in a series, so try not to be too disappointed when that ending comes up way too fast.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ghost.


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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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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 Devil and Winnie Flynn, by Micol Ostow and David Ostow

devil-winnie-flynnWinnie Flynn doesn’t believe in ghosts. (Though she wouldn’t mind a visit from her mom, explaining why she took her own life.) When Winnie’s mysterious Aunt Maggie, a high-profile TV producer, recruits her to spend a summer working as a production assistant on her current reality hit, Fantastic, Fearsome, Winnie suddenly finds herself in the one place her mother would never go: New Jersey.

The review that follows may make it sound like I hate this book but, there is some indefinable quality that has kept me thinking about it ever since I read it almost nine months ago. Finding a book that is unforgettable, for whatever reason, is high on my list of requisites.

When I first picked up The Devil and Winnie Flynn, the premise seemed interesting. I had hoped that Winnie’s story would play into the clichés of reality TV and the horror/paranormal genres while still delivering an exciting and scary mystery. The movie Scream is a great example of this type of story done well, which succeeds in sending up the horror genre in a way that is fun and scary. Instead, in The Devil and Winnie Flynn, I got scenes that played lukewarm rather than terrifying, characters who were distracting, a mystery that seemed haphazard, and unsatisfying world building.

One main issue I had was with how the driving questions of the book are dealt with. Winnie must confront whether the paranormal and magic are real and how these things relate to her recently deceased mother. But, nothing quite connected with me in the way, I’m sure, the author wanted it to. The book intertwines script style writing and official memos from the show, Fantastic, Fearsome, with the rest of Winnie’s narrative. Instead of adding to the mystery, I felt that these additions took me out of the action and disrupted the flow of the story. It made things feel not quite real. Maybe that was the point but, for me, it didn’t work.

Despite the flaws I’ve described here, I decided to review and recommend this book because, while there is nothing better than finding and reading a book that you love, it can also be worthwhile to explore things you aren’t sure of. Books like that can make you think. Or, they might just be really fun to complain about. Totally valid.

While The Devil and Winnie Flynn wasn’t right for me, I can definitely see other readers being sucked into Winnie’s feelings of loss and being lost, of the quiet way in which the mystery is developed, into the eerie black and white illustrations of David Ostow, and even into the continuous stream of pop culture references. Take a chance with this book, it will stick with you long after you’ve read it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Devil and Winnie Flynn.