Books in the Park

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


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Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Until now I haven’t read an entire book in one sitting since I checked out Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as a teenager and stayed up all night to read it. I picked up Seconds the other day and brought it home. I was exhausted but I decided to start reading anyway. What harm would a chapter or two be before bed? 

What I didn’t know, as I cracked open the book, was that I wouldn’t put it back down until I’d finished the last page. I loved O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series and, if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t expecting to like this as much. I hadn’t read much about Seconds, but knew that it always caught my eye on the shelf or in the bookstore. Now that I’ve read it, I can say that comparing Seconds to Scott Pilgrim is apples to oranges. The art style is similar and the writing hooks you, but they’re truly worlds apart in direction.

When we meet the main character, Katie, she’s 29 and is a chef at one of the city’s best restaurants – Seconds. Katie had opened the restaurant with friends and is gearing up to open her very own restaurant in another part of town. She’s got the place picked out and the contractors are working on the renovations. With one foot out the door at Seconds, Katie is feeling a bit lost. After a serious accident at work, she’s presented with a mushroom and a choice – if she could change one thing, would she? The mushroom not only comes with the choice, but with a set of rules.

Katie makes her decision and thus begins her descent down the rabbit hole à la Alice. As Katie falls deeper into a world that is changing day by day, she wonders what has brought her to this point and how can she fix it.

I’ll end my synopsis there, as this book truly takes some wild turns and I’d hate to spoil anything for the next potential reader. Going into Seconds blind (which sounds a lot cooler than saying I checked out a book without reading the description on the cover) turned out to be a good decision. I knew when I picked it up that if I didn’t connect with the story, I’d at least have loved the art and I wasn’t expecting any of the twists that came along.

Wait! One last thing! The art! That’s what I’ll leave you with. If you liked O’Malley’s art in Scott Pilgrim then you’ll love it in Seconds. His style is still the same but it feels very unique to this story. My favorite character design is Lis with her white hair and red eyes. She is somehow creepy and adorable in the same panel and has an epic sense of style thanks to Hazel’s contributions to her wardrobe. Now, go! Pick up a copy of Seconds and tell us what you thought of it!

Check the PPLC catalog for Seconds.

 

 


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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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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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Gotham Academy, by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl

gotham-academy-cloonanOlive Silverlock attends Gotham Academy, the most prestigious boarding school in Gotham, and she is troubled. Not only is Olive’s mom locked up in Arkham Asylum for unknown reasons, but Olive is also haunted by hazy memories of a mysterious incident that happened over summer break. Closing herself off, Olive attempts to avoid Kyle Mizoguchi, her tennis player boyfriend who has the good looks of a K-Pop star. Unfortunately, she is forced to show his freshman sister, Maps, around campus. Add to these problems the innate secrets of Gotham Academy itself: the hidden passageways, the ghost haunting the campus, and the secret society running around, Olive is in for an interesting school year.

There is so much to love about Gotham Academy! It’s been described as Harry Potter meets Batman, and it doesn’t disappoint. Harry Potter fans will appreciate the mystery solving, allusions to magic, and the boarding school dynamics. Batman fans will appreciate the many Easter eggs and guest stars. Bruce Wayne gives a speech at the Academy and he swings onto the scene a couple of times as his alter ego, Batman. There are other familiar elements tossed into Olive’s experience too like a reference to the Langstrom virus and a surprisingly fun appearance by Killer Croc. For Batman fans, it’s fun to see Gotham from the perspective of new characters. It gives an already familiar setting more depth.

None of this, however, takes away from Olive’s story. Perhaps the best part of all is how even readers who know nothing about the Bat-Mythos will still enjoy this book. Olive’s story skillfully intertwines these elements, but they aren’t the point of her story. Readers who aren’t interested in typical superhero comics or who don’t know much about Batman needn’t shy away from Gotham Academy. The new stories and characters it offers definitely stand up on their own. One of the most delightful of these new creations is the character Maps. She’s got the spunky but steadfast sidekick thing down pat. But, she’s a great character in her own right. Her enthusiasm for the D&D-like game, Serpents & Spells, and her love of cartography (which gives her the nickname Maps) is fun, cool, and adorable.

Overall, readers of all ages will find Gotham Academy enjoyable. It’s got great art, smart storytelling, a diverse cast, and a bunch of mysteries that need unraveling. Also, don’t miss the crossover Gotham Academy is currently doing with the comic book Lumberjanes. Read about it here.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Gotham Academy.


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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

cursed child thorneFirst off, I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd. When I hear those first few musical notes at the beginning of each movie, I get goosebumps. I read my first Harry Potter book when I was 10, and 17 years later I’m still obsessed. Having said that, I was not at all excited for this new installment. I had come to terms with the end of Harry and was content just revisiting the original material. But for some reason when the library got our first copy in for circulation and I was holding it in my hands, I just had to have it. My mom bought me a copy (as is tradition) and I read it all immediately in one sitting. I know there is a lot of hate going around for Cursed Child right now. I’ve seen people refer to it as fanfiction. Honestly, I sort of agree, but it is really really really good fanfiction. It wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, but it was written by an accomplished playwright who did wonders with a new storyline. Seriously, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany do a great job capturing character with only dialogue. I was beyond impressed.

The story is definitely fast-paced and at times a little confusing, but we’ve got to remember that it isn’t a book, it’s a play. You can’t expect the same level of detail that the rest of the series supplies. Only super nerds like myself would go see an 8 hour Harry Potter play.  What I’m saying with all this is that if you’re fan of the characters, the story, the message—you’ve gotta read Cursed Child. Love it, hate it, you feel how you want but you’ve just got to have this story in your brain. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t get into to specifics but TIME TURNERS. Guys, we get more details about time turners and MCGONAGALL. She’s back and just as awesome as before. Read it for her. Cursed Child got me back in the Harry Potter spirit and now I’ve got to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in November. Thanks J.K. Rowling for another great story.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.


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Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

DSB TaylorLooking for a young adult fantasy book that’s a little different? This one might be for you.

Karou is an art student living in Prague who is easily picked out of crowd due to her vibrant blue hair. Everyone thinks she dyes it, but it actually grows that way right out of her head. She spends most of her days drawing elaborate, realistic portraits of half-human, half-animal creatures and telling detailed stories about them. Whenever anyone asks her how she comes up with such strange ideas, she simply gives them a wry smile and says: “What? It’s all true.”

And, indeed, it is. Karou is no ordinary girl. She was raised by a group of chimaera and can travel to visit them in Brimstone’s shop through a certain door in her city. Brimstone, an imposing, devilish creature with crocodile eyes and ram’s horns, is also known as the Wishmonger, because he trades wishes for teeth. Karou doesn’t know why or how Brimstone makes these strange trades, but business is booming as humans and chimaera arrive in Brimstone’s shop at all hours. Karou has seen the dark side of this trade, however; the corpses of animals and human girls with bloody mouths haunt her dreams.

The story really begins when black handprints start appearing scorched into doorways all over the world, with witnesses describing the perpetrators as angels who make the prints with their bare hands and then fly away. Little does Karou know, these innocuous events have everything to do with her existence.

It’s easy to see why this book was a finalist for the National Book Award; author Laini Taylor is an amazing writer who has a gift for painting pictures with words. Her prose is beautiful and the story is captivating if a little strange, evolving into an intense romance in the third arc.

This is the first title in a trilogy.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Daughter of Smoke and Bone.