Books in the Park

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


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The Best Man, by Richard Peck

In The Best Man, Archer Magill narrates his life from age six on through grade school. His charm as a character, coupled with the gentle humor that permeates the book make for a highly readable story. Archer is a believable character, he’s a young boy, curious but, slightly clueless. He relies on the adults in his life and his self-possessed best friend, Lynette, to steer him toward emotional maturity.

The main appeal of The Best Man lies in Archer’s relationships with the men in his life: his father, the laid back classic-car buff; his architect grandfather; his career driven, sharply dressed uncle Paul; and, his fifth-grade student teacher, Mr. McLeod, a National Guardsman getting a master’s in education. The men in this book talk about their feelings and each one of Archer’s role models has something important to teach Archer about how to be a man. His father and grandfather form a solid foundation, Uncle Paul helps him handle a bully, and Mr. McLeod confronts homophobia by coming out in front of a classroom of sixth graders. Uncle Paul and Mr. McLeod become a couple but, Uncle Paul needs some persuasion to get serious about it. Archer asks his father if they’ll “talk it over.” His father replies, “No, we’re guys. We’ll talk about the Cubs, and cars. . . . But we’ll make sure he sees there’s a place for Ed McLeod in our family.”

Archer’s story is, in many ways, unassuming but, its approach to masculinity is refreshing. It also describes family, school, and community life in an earnest but relatable way. Our lives may not be quite so picturesque but, whether it be the quirky teacher or the lunch room bullies, children and adults alike will find something to relate to in The Best Man.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Best Man


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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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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.