Books in the Park

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


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2016 Year in Review

2016favorites-tinypng

2016 has been a good year for our blog; hits and comments are up from last year. We hope our spot in cyberspace has helped someone out there find a really good book or movie to enjoy.

Listed here are our favorite books, movies, and music that we enjoyed in 2016. While some of these titles aren’t new this year, it’s never too late for a good recommendation.

First, the 2016 favorites from our patrons. These stats were collected from checkouts countywide.

Most checked out fiction book:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Most checked out nonfiction book:
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Most checked out DVD:
Downton Abbey Season Six

And now staff shares their favorite books, movies, and music that they loved in 2016.

Cathy
Book: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music: Blackstar by David Bowie

Toni
Book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Movie: Moana
Music: The Hamilton Mixtape by various artists

Andrew
Book: Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman
Movie: The Nice Guys
Music: Emotional Mugger by Ty Segall

Mike
Book: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis
Movie: Race
Music: “Growing Up” from the album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

AnnMarie
Book: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Movie: Zootopia
Music: “Don’t Wanna Fight” from the album Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Bret:
Book: Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Erin
Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Dave
Book: Fool by Christopher Moore

Bonnie
Book: Pure by Julianna Baggot

Tony
Book: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Beth
Book: Bindi Babes by Narinder Dham

Bonus:
Looking to read more books in 2017? Joining a reading challenge is a great way to stay motivated and read a wider range of authors and subjects. There are many challenges out there, but this Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges is very comprehensive. Prepare to be literally inspired.

Happy New Year 2017, everyone!


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Whiplash (2014)

whiplash-movieDoes one achieve greatness despite adversity, or because of it?

Whiplash is a real-life 1973 jazz tune composed by Hank Levy and performed by Don Ellis and his orchestra. The song is characterized by an up-beat trumpet melody and unconventional 7/4 time signature. It is notorious among jazz musicians for being very difficult to perform, particularly for the drummer.

The song is featured prominently in the movie and represents the brutality, complexity, and rigor the main character must meet head-on in order to succeed.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a freshman drummer at a prestigious music school in New York City, and he has big dreams of becoming the next Buddy Rich. After an awkward encounter with the school’s most feared jazz music teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Andrew is invited to play with the studio band. Whatever small confidence boost Andrew gets from this honor is shattered, however, when Fletcher becomes enraged and physically abusive towards Andrew in front of the entire class. And, even though Andrew practices every day until his fingers literally bleed, the abuse just gets worse. But Andrew refuses to give up.

This is the kind of movie that stayed with me long after I watched it, especially the monologue Fletcher gives toward the end of the movie. He explains that legendary musicians aren’t produced in a vacuum, and adversity—especially from mentors—is the only way good musicians become great.

“I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them,” he says. “I believe that is an absolute necessity […] There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”

Now, I still don’t know what to think about this idea. But I really like how David Edelstein puts it in his review of the movie for Vulture:

Whiplash will spark debate—some of it angry—over whether [writer-­director Damien Chazelle] is vindicating Fletcher’s methods, suggesting that only a harsh taskmaster can push Andrew to the next level. I don’t think he’s that conclusive. But he’s certainly leaving the question open. When you read Jan Swafford’s exhaustive new Beethoven biography or listen to world-class musicians or Olympic athletes talk about their driving parents and lack of a “real” childhood, you see how pushing kids to the brink can in some cases pay off. It can also—more often—be inhuman, soul-killing, even criminal; it can screw people up for life.

In any case, this is an emotional story with a great soundtrack.

Rated R for language and violence.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Whiplash.


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A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

seven killings marlonEvery so often you come across a book that almost defies your ability to read it, while motivating you to finish and master it. This is one of those books.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a wide-ranging historical drama that takes you from the youngest survivor of Jamaican slums in the 1970s to the drug wars of New York in the 80s, from the attempted murder of Bob Marley to the CIA’s entry into the ”War on Drugs”. It is a story of incredible violence spiraling out from Jamaica and the people who lived it, survived it, and practiced it. There are equal parts beauty and horror.

Brief History is a challenging book because it has many voices, all ringing true, in many dialects. They weave the story in and out of the slums, the offices, and cities while telling a fictional version of the Tivoli Gardens based drug gang the “Shower Posse”, which has centers in American cities as well as Toronto. Bob Marley is only mentioned as the Singer, but a central part of the narrative revolves around him. James’ storytelling uses these different voices as point and counterpoint, with heartbreak, despair, exultation and bravado flavoring the spirit of the story.

It’s these very voices which can, at times, make reading this book a struggle. Some dialects are so thick that it is slow going, between native slang, abbreviations, and idioms that I could only read a couple of chapters before I had to put it down. Every night I put it down, and the next night I picked it up again, because as the book moves forward, the voices become less spread out and the narrative becomes that much more compelling.

James has an astonishing fluency and command of language. Creating a narrative structure in the middle of what was, essentially, chaos is an astonishing feat, and is probably what lead to the book winning the 2015 Booker Prize. It’s an enthralling read, as long as you are willing to let the narrative develop.

Check the PPLC Catalog for A Brief History of Seven Killings.


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Labyrinth (1986)

labyrinthSarah hates her half-brother, Toby. Not only does she have to give up her free time to babysit him, but now her mother is giving away her favorite stuffed toys to the little brat! He can’t even appreciate her teddy bear, he is a BABY, he is barely a person! All Toby is good for is being a pain in Sarah’s side. She wishes he would GO AWAY! Or she did, until Jareth the Goblin King bursts into the nursery and steals Toby. Now Sarah has thirteen hours to work through the King’s Labyrinth or else Toby will be turned into a goblin. Suddenly, Sarah wishes she had been a little more careful about what she wished for.

This is a truly beautiful movie. Many of the film’s characters are puppets, created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, so obviously their design and execution are stellar. Every visual element of the film, the costume design, the backdrops, and the special effects, evokes a sense of wonder, which enhances the fairy-tale atmosphere.

In addition to stunning visuals, the film has amazing performances all around, particularly from David Bowie, who is eerily perfect in the role of an immortal goblin king. Both Bowie’s acting, and singing are a major highlight of the film, another highlight of the film is, of course, the Codpiece Bowie sports during the film.

What is most amazing about this movie is the story, it appears almost between all of the other great elements of the film, but it is there, and it is extraordinarily heartfelt, Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah, makes a fantastic heroine who grows immeasurably during her ordeal. Her story will appeal to children of all ages. Labyrinth is a rare movie that can entertain every family member.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Labyrinth.


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Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock and Roll Mystery (2015)

scooby-doo and kissHalloween at KISS World, the world’s first KISS-themed amusement park, is gearing up to be a big night. As the fans prepare for a massive Halloween concert, staff scrambles to get the rides and attractions ready for guests, a difficult task. All of the rides fall far below safety regulations, with the Gene Simmons-themed ride featuring actual flamethrowers that burn riders.

If the rides weren’t enough of a nightmare, a terrifying woman called the Crimson Witch has begun flying around KISS World on a plume of red smoke, searching for something called “The Rock”. She needs to be stopped before the concert. Enter Scooby and the Gang! Well, they really came to KISS World to sneak into the concert, but since there is this mystery afoot, they might as well offer their services. The Gang teams up with none other than the band KISS in order to get to the bottom of the Crimson Witch case. As the Gang investigates, they begin to wonder how much KISS knows about this “Rock” and their connection to the Crimson Witch.

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

vgoeI started reading A Visit from the Goon Squad right before I went on trip to D.C., which was convenient because the District of Columbia Public Library has a really awesome archive of local punk music memorabilia and albums. I wish I could I say I did this on purpose, but really fate just handed me this.

Author Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011 for this beauty of a book, and it’s easy to see why. Egan’s eclectic cast of characters and masterful writing makes A Visit from the Good Squad deserving of a spot on everyone’s reading list. The novel starts with Sasha, a thirty something kleptomaniac, relaying her recent thieving exploits to her therapist. It then quickly switches perspectives to Bennie Salazar, Sasha’s boss and big time music executive. Bennie is divorced, struggling to connect with his son, and obsessively consumes flakes of gold. The rest of the novel continues in this way, telling the stories of everyone who touched Sasha’s life—making them the lead characters and altering the story exponentially. Some characters are forever left in the dark, never knowing the motives or intentions of one another, but Egan makes a point to show her readers. Screaming punk rockers, a trip to Africa, a suicide attempt, nostalgia, and fair amount of teenage angst are the ingredients found within this tasty novel.

Read this one and then immediately start Egan’s Look at Me—trust me on this.

Check the PPLC Catalog for A Visit from the Goon Squad.


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Cobra Juicy by Black Moth Super Rainbow

cobra juicy coverBefore the modern era of albums generated as much by algorithm as by people, electronic music as a genre was a far more “lo-fi” affair.  Through the 1960s and 1970s, pioneering electronic musicians like Wendy Carlos, Herbie Hancock, and Karlheinz Stockhausen produced songs that were defined by the warm, fuzzy sounds of their temperamental analog equipment. Harking back to that era of analog richness is the psychedelic masterpiece Cobra Juicy, one of the latest from Pittsburgh natives Black Moth Super Rainbow.

While Cobra Juicy uses many of those same sonic textures and equipment of old, its approach in manipulating them is entirely different. Through heavy use of distortion, vocoders, trapdoor percussion, and growling guitar, this is an album that might best be described as sinister. However, while there’s an element of energy and aggression, this is not an angry work. Punctuating the distortion-fueled crunch are soft 1970s synth melodies and dreamy vocals with lyrics that are equal parts cool and bizarre. Opening track “Windshield Smasher” exemplifies this balance with groaning vocals and staccato percussion. Later on, tracks like “Psychic Love Damage” offer a bit of soothing reprieve, but the lyrics remain just as shadowy.

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