Books in the Park

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


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Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Assassin’s Creed, for those unfamiliar, takes the player into the past to relive the memories locked within their DNA and passed down from their ancestors. For the first several games you travel into this world with the help of Desmond Miles, a modern day assassin with genetic ties to many important figures within the history of the Assassin’s Brotherhood. He is being forced to relive these memories by Abstergo, a mega conglomerate that is a front for the Knights Templar.

You don’t need to know that to watch Assassin’s Creed. We pick up with a brand new protagonist: Calum “Cal” Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender. Little is shared about Cal’s backstory outside of the events that start off the film. He’s not necessarily a likable character, being on death row when we first meet him, but you quickly begin to wonder about his past and be a bit concerned for him as he is brought in by Abstergo to help them test their Animus project and delve into the history of his own ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha.

It’s at this point that the story really picks up the pace. Cal is placed into the Animus and his ancestor’s memories play before him. He must keep up with Aguilar and not stray from the path that he took. Doing so would risk desynchronization, which could lead to ejection from the Animus, insanity, or even death.

Aguilar lived in 15th Century Spain, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. We see him and the other members of the Assassin’s Brotherhood fighting against troops led by Torquemada – a member of the Templar Order, of course – to keep an item of great power out of their hands.

While the present day story line is interesting, the historical aspect is what screams Assassin’s Creed about this film. Watching Fassbender (who also plays Aguilar) running through the streets of Seville in 1491 to escape Torquemada’s men is fast paced, heart pounding action that could keep nearly anyone entertained. The series has always been known for their use of Parkour or Free running, which is predominantly displayed through the ancient city.

Overall, as an Assassin’s Creed mega fan with high expectations, I was entertained and enjoyed the film. There were enough differences from the games that it felt like something that was new and it’s own instead of a game sequel. Was it the best movie of 2016? No. Will I re-watch it anyway? Absolutely, and for that reason I will gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun movie.


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The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

I have several favorite authors that I routinely rely on for captivating stories that take me away from my everyday life and then stay with me long after I return their book. Anita Shreve is one of those authors. Her latest novel, The Stars Are Fire is based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine history. Shreve had me on the hook right away. Her latest novel is suspenseful and fast paced. It was easy to get lost in the story; not so easy to put it down until I found out how things turned out for Grace and her children.

It is October 1947 in Maine. Grace is a young wife and mother of limited means and resources, doing what it takes day by day to care for her husband and small children. Although she has a mom nearby and close friend, Rosie, to talk to and commiserate with, she struggles to make the most of her long days caring for her children and mostly absent husband.

After a summer long drought, a fire breaks out. While her husband goes off to help as a volunteer firefighter, Grace is left alone to fend for her children during the devastating fire.

The expert story telling puts you right in the coastal town where people are fighting for their lives and dealing with a tragedy too horrendous to fully comprehend. At times, I could not put the book down wondering how Grace was going to get out of certain situations. Compassionate strangers help Grace along the way. There are interesting side stories about these strangers and how they help Grace move forward in her new life.

Check out The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. You too may get lost in this suspenseful story and think of Grace and her children long after you return this book.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Stars are Fire.


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Daughters of a Nation, by Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley, and Kianna Alexander

daughters-of-a-nationA feast for the mind as well as the heart, each of the four stories in this romance anthology are set in the turbulent decades surrounding the dawn of the 20th century in the United States; a time when legal slavery had recently been abolished but women and blacks had yet to obtain the right to vote. The stories feature four spirited African American females who are determined to make positive changes through political activism. Readers will find a mix of timely themes including racism, women’s rights, and immigration, each with a light dusting of romance which does nothing to distract from the subject matter.

All four of these stories are fantastic, but I want to highlight my two favorites. “In the Morning Sun” by Lena Hart is about Civil War widow Madeline Asher who moves to Nebraska to teach reading and writing to African Americans as well as inspire them to fight for suffrage. Meanwhile, she must fight against the passion she feels for a white Union veteran with whom there’s no future, due to the strict ban on interracial marriage. “Let Us Dream” by Alyssa Cole is set in 1917 Harlem. With women’s suffrage on the ballot, cabaret owner and natural born entertainer Bertha Hines is determined to convince her patrons to vote in her favor. She finds an unlikely ally in a disenfranchised Muslim immigrant, and their uneasy friendship soon blossoms into something much more.

Stimulating on multiple levels, this is a great read for anyone who values love and freedom.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Daughters of a Nation.


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The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

golem-jinni-wecker-compressedJewish and Arabian mythologies converge in this spellbinding novel set in New York City at the dawn of the 20th century.

When a failed businessman asks a mystic to create a golem to be his wife, the mystic laughs in his face. Golems are mindless beings made of clay with fantastic strength that live only to serve their masters. But the businessman doesn’t want a slave; he wants an obedient yet curious, intelligent, and virtuous wife. Eventually, the mystic comes to view the request as a challenge and, for a hefty price, promises to deliver. “But remember this,” the mystic warns. “No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her.”

Meanwhile, a tinsmith examines an ornate copper flask with delicate scrollwork etched into the metal. When he disrupts the scrollwork, the flask explodes, and a uncannily handsome man wearing nothing but an iron cuff on his right wrist now stands in the shop. “Tell me where the wizard is,” the jinni demands of the baffled tinsmith, “so I can kill him.”

Thus begins a thoroughly engaging story with memorable characters, subtle romance, and beautiful prose. Author Helene Wecker has done something unique and poignant here by coupling the mythologies of these traditionally disparate cultures against the backdrop of New York City in 1899. Further, this is a New York City of immigrants, a fact that is neatly juxtaposed with the unwitting immigration of the golem and the jinni. Highly recommended for fantasy and historical fiction readers.

Wecker has announced that a sequel called The Iron Season is coming in 2018.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Golem and the Jinni.


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The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka

buddha-otsukaJulie Otsuka’s beautifully and poetically written second novel tells the story of young Japanese “picture brides” who leave behind a life of poverty and hard labor in Japan in the hope of finding happiness and prosperity in America. Their hope, however, turns out to be based on an illusion. Upon arriving in America, they discover that not only are the men waiting for them much older than they were led to believe (they had sent 20-year-old pictures of themselves), but that the stories of their husbands’ prosperity were merely the fabrications of the matchmakers who had brought them together. In reality, their husbands treat them with crudeness and they experience a kind of suffering they are not prepared for.

Otsuka writes in the first person plural point of view, as though the women are speaking collectively about their common experiences. This makes the telling of their saga more powerful than one individual story would have been. “Some of us were from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiancé, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on.”

Though the women continue to feel like outsiders in their adopted country, by the 1940’s they have settled into their life in America, many running businesses with their husbands and establishing their own communities. Their children have assimilated into the culture, speaking fluent English and feeling ashamed of their parents’ old fashioned customs and broken English. But life becomes surreal again with the outbreak of World War II and the looming threat of internment camps.

The Buddha in the Attic is in a sense a prequel to Otsuka’s first novel, When the Emperor was Divine, which details the life of a Japanese family living through World War II. Her novels are based in large part on her own family’s history, as Otsuka’s grandparents and parents were among those taken to the internment camps. Their stories should not be forgotten.

Winner of the Penn/Faulkner Award for Fiction and a National Book Award finalist.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Buddha in the Attic.


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The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

other-peoples-houses

I really enjoy books that take me to a time or place very different from my own. Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese is one such title, with its tale of a young Native American man reconnecting with his father.  The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is another such book.  The setting in Alaska’s early days of statehood, its environment of rough-and-ready native hunting and fishing families, and its narrative related by four very different voices from four very different perspectives really succeed in placing the reader in that different time and place.

Four children’s perspectives are woven throughout this story, which is broken into the events of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Ruth suffered the loss of one parent to a plane crash, then another as her mother loses her mind from grief. Dora wants to get out of her life, but doesn’t trust her luck when it happens. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away from home than to stay, and Alyce works hard practicing dancing but her hard work on her father’s fishing boat threatens to keep her from her dreams—or does it?

What’s notable in this book is the children’s assumption of agency. At some point, they take control of their lives. They have seen what their lives are and know it is up to them to embrace or reject the status quo. With this, the characters all play a role in other characters’ lives, whether it’s as an instigator, a beacon of hope, or a fellow traveler in their lives’ journeys. The gentle interaction between all their stories remind us that we can all be catalysts for each other, even though we suspect we have nothing to offer.

This book works as a coming of age story (well, four coming of ages) as well as a peek into another life and world that can illuminate our own. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s narrative is well constructed and solidly grounded in Alaskan life. Good authors can make a setting feel real, but great authors make you feel as if you are there. Read this book and be transported to 1970s Alaska—you won’t regret it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Smell of Other People’s Houses.


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Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin

fevre dream martinGeorge R.R. Martin has arguably reached legendary author status with his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was turned into the equally epic TV show, Game of Thrones. But it’s easy to forget that Martin had been writing for decades before ASoIaF. One of his earliest novels is Fevre Dream, a historical/horror novel about vampires waging a turf war on steamboats in the mid-to-late 1800s.

And, yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

Captain Abner Marsh is almost put out of the steamboat business when his dilapidated fleet is destroyed during a harsh winter. When a mysterious aristocrat named Joshua York offers Marsh a partnership—and a brand-new, state-of-the-art sidewheeler—Marsh hesitates just a little before taking York up on his offer. Marsh has high hopes that his new boat will be the fastest on the Mississippi, earning him some lasting fame as a steamboat captain. But Marsh soon learns that York’s offer has many stipulations, and the Mississippi’s darkest secrets aren’t in the water at all.

I loved this book simply because it had an interesting premise that paid off in a big way. Anne Rice fans should be all over this excellent historical novel. The plot has a lot of interesting twists, the characters come to life on the page, and the details of the golden era of Mississippi River steamboats are described so well that I bet even Mark Twain would get a kick out of it. Just be prepared to read the N-word a lot. (I told you the details of the era are solid!) This book proves that George R.R. Martin is an excellent writer, researcher, and—dare I say—historian, no matter the subject or era.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fevre Dream.