Books in the Park

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


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I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I will raise my hand and say that, while I love adventure stories, I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries or crime stories. When I picked up I Am Princess X after seeing it recommended in our #ReadersUnite video I was drawn to the fierce Princess X character on the cover and decided to give it a shot.

The book hooks you instantly by detailing the curious friendship of Libby and May. Their friendship grows from one of circumstance to one of true sisterhood. They seem to spend every minute together creating their character, Princess X. The creative process stopped, however, when tragedy struck. Libby and her mother died in a car accident. May could no longer bring herself to write Princess X and her story died with Libby…

Or so May thought. One day, May sees a sticker with a princess character that looks exactly how Libby had drawn Princess X. Then she sees another, and another, and another. She finds out from someone sporting a Princess X patch on his bag that it’s from a popular web comic.

After reading the comic, May knows in her heart that Libby must be alive somewhere and creating more Princess X stories. With the help of a computer savvy friend, she tries to track down the creator to see if it really is her friend or someone who bought the stories from the thrift store where Libby’s father had sent all of his daughter’s belongings. What she finds is an adventure worthy of Princess X herself that puts May, her friends, and family into harm’s way.

Panels of the web comic are sprinkled throughout the novel to help guide the story, so I highly recommend reading the book instead of the audio book! The panels are wonderfully illustrated by Kali Ciesemier.

Pick up a copy of I am Princess X to find out what happens!


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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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Night Work, by Laurie R. King

In summer of 2016, we asked our patrons for book reviews as part of our adult summer reading raffle. We have chosen the cream of the crop to feature here on our blog.

night work kingSynopsis from the publisher:

Kate and her partner, Al Hawkin, are called to a scene of carefully executed murder: the victim is a muscular man, handcuffed and strangled, a stun gun’s faint burn on his chest and candy in his pocket. The likeliest person to want him dead, his often-abused wife, is meek and frail–and has an airtight alibi. Kate and Al are stumped, until a second body turns up–also zapped, cuffed, and strangled…and carrying a candy bar. This victim: a convicted rapist. As newspaper headlines speculate about vendetta killings, a third death draws Kate and Al into a network of pitiless destruction that reaches far beyond San Francisco, a modern-style hit list with shudderingly primal roots.

Review by Christine Hammerman:

This book was a suspenseful and entertaining read.

The story provided mystery and humor at the same time. The main character was well-written and stood up for herself and her principals, despite a tough job role and personal relationship.

Favorite phrase: “My sides were clapping together like an empty portmanteau.”

Check the PPLC Catalog for Night Work.


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Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

dead dark harrisI’ve been re-watching all of HBO’s True Blood and, while I was not-so-patiently waiting for season 7 to come in, I decided to delve into the book series. So far I have not been disappointed.

Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Southern Vampire Mystery series was just so much fun. The show borrows pretty accurately from the source material, and it’s interesting to pull out all the little differences in the characters and plot. If you aren’t familiar with the show or the series let me break it down for you. It’s got vampires, shapeshifters, werewolves, and telepaths. Also, everyone is beautiful and the one-liners are fantastic. On top of all the supernatural shenanigans, it also has an awesome mystery plot line that never gets stale.

Sookie, a waitress/telepath/danger magnet has been longing to meet a vampire since their existence was revealed to the world a few years back. Rural Louisiana, I guess, isn’t too appealing to most vampires. But Vampire Bill, an ex-Confederate soldier, used to call Bon Temps home and strolls into Merlotte’s and into Sookie’s section. Her life will never be the same!

I recommend this series to fans of True Blood, to those who love supernatural stories, or to those who just enjoy reading detailed descriptions of attractive people.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Dead Until Dark.


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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

24hourbookstore-sloanSimply, this is a book about books. It’s also a book about technology, immortality, and the future of books in a digital world, all wrapped up in an engaging mystery story with a strong cast of characters.

Clay Johnson, like many Millennials fresh out of college at the height of the Great Recession, is having trouble finding work. He’d had a short stint as a web designer and Twitter marketer for a fancy bagel shop, but that went from startup to belly up in less than a year, leaving Clay with little experience to help him land another job. As he gets increasingly desperate, he stumbles across an odd bookstore with a help-wanted sign. Very soon Clay finds himself employed as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and the adventure of his life begins. This is no ordinary bookstore. It sells books, sure, but, as Clay discovers, it’s also selling a chance for true immortality.

There’s so much to talk about in this book that I find it hard to summarize, but Farhad Manjoo’s review of this book in Slate definitely helps:

In an era of ubiquitous digitizing, in which books and music and pictures can all be turned into instantly transferrable streams of ones and zeroes—a fate that may soon await our bodies and brains, too—is human society close to achieving something like immortality? And, if so, is digital immortality anything like real, physical immortality—and should we be happy with it?

From typefaces to computer programming to book binding to Google, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore takes the reader on a thrill ride through a fictional world of bookish intrigue complete with a rag-tag team of tech-savvy young people to root for and a sinister cult of old-fashioned sticks-in-the-mud to despise. But, far from being a rallying cry to digitize everything, this book advocates for a technological balance. Precious information is lost in translation when we digitize, and there is much more to our physical world than can be rendered in ones and zeros.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.


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The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

girl on the trainRachel’s life is in pieces. Her husband cheated on then left her, she lost her job because she’s developed quite an alcohol addiction, and her roommate wants her out immediately. She spends all of her time riding the commuter train she used to take back when she was still employed. Speeding by suburbia, Rachel becomes obsessed with a couple whom she often sees from the train window. They live just a few houses down from her ex-husband. She’s created elaborate stories for their lives and goes so far as to name them Jess and Jason. One night, while on a spectacular bender, Rachel gets off the train near her old home. What she sees and how she obtained some pretty serious injuries, she can’t recall the next morning. This, of course, has happened to her before, but this time a girl has gone missing—and it’s her Jess. Does Rachel know what happened to Jess deep in her subconscious? Will the police take her report seriously even if she does happen to remember something?

A few months back EVERYONE had to read Girl on the Train. The waiting list for this thriller was massive so I avoided it and made no move to secure a copy. The hype has died down now and I finally got me a copy. I read it in two days and I can definitely see why everyone was so excited about it. After Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn became a bestseller, readers were hungry for another dark and twisty mystery. Here it is. Unreliable narrators are one of my favorite literary devices and Rachel makes an excellent anti-hero. I recommend this title wholeheartedly.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl on the Train.


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Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan

altered carbon morganThe hard-boiled, “noir” genre of mysteries inspires writers of other genres, sometimes to fantastic effect. Altered Carbon is one of those great novels that takes a cyberpunk staple, store-able memories, and extrapolates its effects on society into a fascinatingly coherent world set 500 years in the future.

In the future, most people have cortical “stacks” stored in their spinal columns. If they die, their stacks can be stored forever, if necessary. The wealthy can re-download their stacks into new bodies, called “sleeves”. This makes murder a difficult crime, since the murdered person can be re-sleeved and go on to tell the authorities who the murderer was. It also makes destroying a stack a particularly heinous crime.

The truly wealthy are known as Methuselahs or “Meths” and they can afford multiple clone sleeves and redundant downloaded stacks so they essentially never die. Killing them is useless, since they download into a new sleeve with backed-up memories the next day.

Takeshi Kovacs is a former elite soldier designed to be transmitted digitally across solar systems to fight in specially prepared sleeves. The mental training necessary to survive the rapid, disorienting transit between sleeves and environments is so powerful that “Envoys” aren’t allowed to hold government offices on most worlds.

Killed on his home planet in the prologue, Kovacs wakes up in a new sleeve on Earth, hired by a Meth to find out who killed the Meth in his own home. In a twist on the classic locked room mystery, there was no one in the house but the Meth, and a suicide makes no sense, since he’d be re-sleeved the next morning. The only clue Kovacs has is that his employer double checked his upload time just before he died.

Kovacs finds his way around the Bay area in 2500 AD Earth, learning the city’s underside while we learn how the world works in this dystopian future. As Kovacs threads his way through this dark world, all the twists and crimes that can happen with backed up memories, clone bodies, virtual holding chambers and updated weaponry are exposed. When he discovers why he was downloaded into this particular body, he brings down the fortunes of the Earth’s most powerful Meths.

Fast paced, violent, and charged with new and disturbing ways to commit crimes and conceal them, Altered Carbon is a thrilling beginning to the Kovacs series. The series has just been announced as a Netflix TV show, so you can look forward to seeing it streaming in the near future.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Altered Carbon.