Books in the Park

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


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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 Baby-Sitters Club #1 – Kristy’s Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier

The Baby-Sitters Club #1 – Kristy’s Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier (Based on the novel by Ann M. Martin)

The Baby-Sitters Club has been revamped! The classic series has been re-imagined by Raina Telgemeier for a new audience. Kristy’s Great Idea takes the same story from the original Baby-Sitters Club book that many parents will remember and retells it as a graphic novel, or a very long comic book.

The story is about a group of girls who make spare money babysitting neighborhood kids and, in some cases, their own siblings. Kristy, the eventual leader of the club, has the idea to work with her friends so that parents can call one phone number to schedule babysitting and not have to call each of them to see who may be available. The book also introduces the girls’ family situations; Kristy is growing up with her mom and brothers after her parents’ divorce, Mary Anne’s mom died when she was a baby, and Claudia’s creativity goes against everything her parents want for her in life.

I read the original Baby-Sitters Club Books growing up and recommend these for upper elementary and middle school aged readers.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Baby-Sitters Club


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Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley

Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt

Take one pirate princess without a crew or a ship, add a heaping scoop of determination, and round it off with a band of misfits that come together under her colors and you have Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt. I expected action and adventure, but what kept me hooked was the witty humor and lovable characters.

Having previously been abandoned to a tower by herself to wait for her prince, Raven now faces an onslaught of the stereotypical male pirates as she begins her search for a crew. She hears everything from “not all men,” to “Help! I’m being oppressed by the matriarchy!” as she turns down man after man for the job. The crew comes together from women around town who are looking for new adventures. They’ve slayed the Goblin Kings in their table top games, now it’s time to band together and go search for real danger. Led by the new first mate, Katie (a.k.a. Muscles), a diverse crew of women rallies behind Raven to set out to reclaim her rightful place as the head of her family’s pirate enterprise.

The art in Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew was stunning – the scenes are all well drawn and dynamic and the story flowed easily from one panel to the next. Beyond the writing and artistic skill used to portray the women, I truly appreciated the diversity that is included among the crew. Yes, it is an all women crew, but you will not confuse one woman for another. They each have their own unique looks, backgrounds, interests, and dialogue style. Any Pirate Princess can pick up this graphic novel and see herself in its pages. This graphic novel is recommended for ages 9+ and is a quick, fun read for any girl (or their mom!) that’s ever dreamed of the sailing the seven seas.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley. 


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Teen Book Review – The Selection, by Kiera Cass

Our latest review comes to us from one of our teen patrons! As a part of our Build a Better World summer reading program, we asked our teens to share reviews of some of their favorite summer reads with us. Arni has reviewed The Selection, by Kiera Cass.

The Selection is one of my favorite books. The book follows the story of a woman named America Singer. She started off in the lower caste of her society. She was a five, seven being the lowest and one being the highest. America had a boyfriend who was a six. In the society, if a girl married someone in a lower caste, she was a disgrace. On the other hand her family was looking forward to entering her into a contest to win her husband. The prince of her country needed a bride, and America was invited to participate for the contest.

Who will America choose, her lover or the prince? This book was a bumpy road because there were so many twists and turns. Sometimes America would lean towards her boyfriend, and then the prince. You would never know what was going to happen!

Thank you, Arni, for the review!

Check out the PPLC catalog for The Selection and the other installments in the series!

 


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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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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