Books in the Park

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


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.

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Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2016)

ash-evil-deadAsh Williams, general deadbeat and failure, has a secret. As a youth, Ash witnessed his friends murdered and then possessed by an unspeakable evil. Summoning every ounce of his strength, he was able to push that evil back where it came from and keep the world safe. In the present day, after a drunken party trick gone wrong, Ash has unleashed the evil into the world again, and those evil forces are gunning for revenge.

If you haven’t already seen first three Evil Dead films, let me warn you: this series is incredibly gory. However, despite the literal blood and guts flying all over the place, the show remains light, campy, and a little irreverent. Ash vs. the Evil Dead remains true to the spirit of the films—that is to say tastelessly gruesome.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ash Vs. Evil Dead.

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Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

draculas daughterDr. Von Helsing can rest easily knowing that Count Dracula is dead for good. The evil vampire was destroyed by Von Helsing’s own two hands (plus a wooden stake), and now London is safe. The matter of his being arrested for the Count’s murder are trivial compared to his great feat. Nevertheless, Von Helsing enlists the help of his former student, psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth, to help build a case for his sanity.

Unbeknownst to Von Helsing, a new terror stalks the night. The beautiful Countess Marya Zaleska desperately wants a normal life, but first she must find a way to stop her cravings for human blood. She eventually turns to Dr. Jeffery Garth for a cure, and she will stop at nothing to get it.

This is not at true “Lesbian Vampire” movie, but it dips its foot in the genre. As a vampire, Countess Zaleska feeds on both men and women. Yes, that is a metaphor. Whatever her meal preferences are, Zaleska’s primary focus remains on her mission: to be content with her life. Everything else falls by the wayside, even the safety of others. Zaleska, played by Gloria Holden, is arguably the best part of the film. She is a brooding and fascinating villain, who the modern viewer will end up rooting for.

The film was made in 1936 and, as a result, is full of out-dated notions about pretty much everything; most egregious is the heavy implication that bisexual women are blood-sucking monsters. Despite this misconception, the film will surely delight and intrigue the viewers who love vampires, old horror movies, or both.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Dracula’s Daughter.

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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.

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Ringu (1998)

ringuI may be the only person in the world who missed the initial J-horror band wagon when it first rolled through town, but what better way to make up for lost time than by watching the most well-known of the Japanese horror movies. Based on the novel Ring by Koji Suzuki, this film completely reworks the world created in the novel, creating a final product that is every bit as thrilling as the novel in a completely different way.

Reiko Asakawa is reporting on the latest urban legend, a mysterious video tape that will kill the viewer in seven days. The case hits close to home when Reiko’s niece, Tomoko, dies suddenly with no explanation. After doing some sleuthing at Tomoko’s funeral, Reiko realizes that Tomoko must have viewed the tape, and she sets out to retrace her niece’s steps to find the source of this ghost story. When Reiko watches the tape, she finds herself in over her head, and enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji, who is no stranger to the supernatural. It is a race against time for both of them, and they only have seven days to find a cure for the curse.

The film and the book share a couple of key elements, but the film diverges drastically from the book. The novel’s protagonist, Kazuyuki, a troubled family man, becomes Reiko, an intrepid single mother, who may or may not be neglecting her son in favor of her career. The ‘sidekick’ Ryuji, was a depraved degenerate in the novel, but in the films he is a brooding anti-hero with latent physic abilities. Both of these characters are acted wonderfully. Reiko displays the nervous verve of a woman of action who is facing her own death, and Ryuji is simultaneously charming, rude, and controlling, so the viewer understands why Reiko married him, as well as why she left him. Their interactions are peppered with an awkward remorseful affection, that plays second fiddle to their desire to remedy themselves of the curse that has them in its cross-hairs.

As for the horror aspects, Ring is pretty light on the scares. The film relies on the tense atmosphere to make the viewer feel uneasy, and this tactic works incredibly well. The supernatural elements of the film are very different from the ones in the novel; this movie tells a classic ghost story, complete with a terrifying specter. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you try this film out.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ringu.

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King

bazaarbagdreamsking-Alright, I’m late to the party again. This was my first Stephen King read. After finishing everything his son, Joe Hill, has ever written I figured it was time to read some King.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories, some never published before and some newly revised but all originally published after 2009. As it was my first introduction to King’s writing, I loved his introductions to the stories. Knowing just a little bit about his writing/thought process or where he was borrowing a writing style from really added some depth to the pieces. My favorites would have to be Morality, Bad Little Kid and Obits. Obits in particular struck a nerve. It’s about a writer for an Internet gossip site who specializes in writing terribly mean obituaries for celebrities. He gains popularity but it is ultimately denied a pay increase by his boss. When he, in frustration, writes an obit for her and the next day discovers her dead under similar circumstances, he questions if he’s gained some sort of dark power.

Since reading this collection I have gone on to read ‘Salem’s Lot and The Green Mile. Getting to see King’s writing progression from the seventies to the nineties to now is really striking. Of course, looking back at these short stories after reading the others I realize they are still so Stephen King. I recommend this title to fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, and spooky stories.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.