Books in the Park

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


The Iron Druid Chronicles, by Kevin Hearne

hounded-iron-druid-hearneI love books written in series because they give you a chance to really get to know the characters and to delve deeply into the world they inhabit. I recently ran across Hounded, the first title in Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles, and proceeded to binge-read every title in the series. The series does all I ask for with well-crafted plotlines, good world-building, and memorable characters that you root for, including a magically enhanced Irish wolfhound. Plus, there is mythology—lots of it.

Atticus O’Sullivan (his actual Gaelic name looks terrifying to pronounce, but is included in a handy pronunciation guide) is the last druid alive and is at least 2000 years old. Before the Romans exterminated all the Druids left in Ireland, Britain, and Gaul, he escaped in order to be able to fulfill his destiny, to protect Gaia. He now lives in Tempe, Arizona, and takes care of the lands around there while avoiding the attentions of the gods.

Gods? Yes, gods. Hearne’s world-building is masterful, blending all the pantheons in a multiverse sort of way, with the Irish gods, Norse gods, and Greco-Roman gods featuring prominently in the stories. There are also witches, vampires, and werewolves. As Atticus is Irish, most of his dealings are with the Tuatha de Danann, the Irish pantheon of deities. He is under Morrigan’s protection, and as such, is a pawn in their pantheon’s plots and machinations. As gods do, they act through other, less deific agents on earth, and so the first few books deal with the magical inhabitants of the Tempe area. Later adventures involve many other pantheons, including even Ganesh the elephant-headed Hindu god.

Atticus has friends, especially his Irish wolfhound, Oberon. Oberon is magically enhanced and carries on hilarious telepathic conversations with Atticus from a dog’s worldview. Atticus’ legal affairs are taken care of by, of course, a vampire and werewolf. As the series progresses, he adds an apprentice, Granuaile (pronounced gran ya wail, if you want to know) whose decade-long training is interrupted with adventures through seven books.

The stories are full of humor, adventure, and the occasional throwdown between gods and mortals. The books’ events follow in sequence, so they really need to be read in order. Atticus is both brash and human, despite his advanced age. His good intentions occasionally go awry, but they make him likable.  The mixing of the various pantheons allows for magic, science, and deific powers to coexist seamlessly, and even with some broad humor. I enjoyed the series thoroughly and look forward to more of Atticus and Granuaile’s adventures.

Check the PPLC Catalog for:

Book 1: Hounded
Book 2: Hexed
Book 3: Hammered
Book 4: Tricked
Book 5: Trapped
Book 6: Hunted
Book 7: Shattered
Book 8: Staked

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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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Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

DSB TaylorLooking for a young adult fantasy book that’s a little different? This one might be for you.

Karou is an art student living in Prague who is easily picked out of crowd due to her vibrant blue hair. Everyone thinks she dyes it, but it actually grows that way right out of her head. She spends most of her days drawing elaborate, realistic portraits of half-human, half-animal creatures and telling detailed stories about them. Whenever anyone asks her how she comes up with such strange ideas, she simply gives them a wry smile and says: “What? It’s all true.”

And, indeed, it is. Karou is no ordinary girl. She was raised by a group of chimaera and can travel to visit them in Brimstone’s shop through a certain door in her city. Brimstone, an imposing, devilish creature with crocodile eyes and ram’s horns, is also known as the Wishmonger, because he trades wishes for teeth. Karou doesn’t know why or how Brimstone makes these strange trades, but business is booming as humans and chimaera arrive in Brimstone’s shop at all hours. Karou has seen the dark side of this trade, however; the corpses of animals and human girls with bloody mouths haunt her dreams.

The story really begins when black handprints start appearing scorched into doorways all over the world, with witnesses describing the perpetrators as angels who make the prints with their bare hands and then fly away. Little does Karou know, these innocuous events have everything to do with her existence.

It’s easy to see why this book was a finalist for the National Book Award; author Laini Taylor is an amazing writer who has a gift for painting pictures with words. Her prose is beautiful and the story is captivating if a little strange, evolving into an intense romance in the third arc.

This is the first title in a trilogy.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

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Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)

SG-1Finally, one of the best science fiction series in world history is available at Barbara S. Ponce Public Library thanks to a generous donation from one of our patrons.

Deep beneath the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, a secret Air Force project is using alien technology to visit distant planets all over the galaxy. This technology is called the Stargate: a huge ring that acts as a waypoint between other Stargates throughout the Milky Way.

Stargates were introduced in the 1994 Stargate movie starring ‎Kurt Russell‎ and ‎James Spader, but the Stargate SG-1 TV series is only loosely based on the movie.

Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), along with his the rest of his team—archaeology nerd Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), brilliant astrophysicist Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), and rescued alien Teal’c (Christopher Judge)—explore extraterrestrial worlds and interact with the aliens who live on those worlds, eventually drawing the attention of an evil race determined to control the galaxy.

The show is similar to Star Trek with its mission to explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations, but Stargate SG-1 has a lot more action and humor than Star Trek.

I also love this series for the characters. Each of the major characters is well-rounded and many episodes focus on their personal dilemmas. Often the characters will fight and disagree with each other, which is essential for character development, but was a Roddenberry no-no in Star Trek.

If you like adventure, action, aliens, comedy, or space travel, I highly recommend Stargate SG-1. The show lasted ten seasons, so there’s lots of it to love.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Stargate SG-1.

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The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

the last unicornA true high fantasy, Peter S. Beagle’s classic novel is a beautiful, emotional tale for all ages.

“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.” One day a couple of hunters pass through the unicorn’s woods and begin arguing about whether unicorns still exist. After the hunters leave, the unicorn begins to wonder if she really is the last unicorn in the world. To find out, she reluctantly leaves her home to search for others of her kind. Along the way, the unicorn is joined by a bumbling magician and a cynical older woman who both want the company of the unicorn for very different reasons. In the end, the lives of everyone will be changed forever, especially the unicorn’s.

I like this book most for the gorgeous descriptions and masterful plot. Although this is a fantasy story with a protagonist that is a unicorn, it’s also a very human story with deeply emotional undertones. Highly recommended for Tolkien fans or anyone else that likes a little bit of gentle substance in their fantasy.

There is a follow-up story to The Last Unicorn written by Beagle entitled “Two Hearts”, originally published in the October/November 2005 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. You can read the story in the anthology Mirror Kingdoms.

Note that there’s also a classic Rankin/Bass movie version of The Last Unicorn starring lots of famous voices, plus a graphic novel version with gorgeous artwork, both of which are faithful to the original novel. They are also recommended.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Last Unicorn.

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The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

wicked divineEvery ninety years twelve gods resurface in the bodies of the young and beautiful.  They are rock stars, legends, and pop icons.  In two years they are all dead.  Seriously epic, huh?  It only gets better from there. With characters like Lucifer, Amaterasu, Sakhmet, Baphomet, Minerva, Woden, and Dionysus, it’s easy to imagine how dark yet fun this novel can get.  Laura, the main human protagonist, is a self-described fangirl who never misses an opportunity to see the gods perform. Laura revels in the light at Amaterasu’s concert and almost loses herself at a rave thrown by Dionysus. But it’s not all fun and games. There are deadly rivalries and grudges between the gods, and their powers are immense.  When one of the gods is publicly and gruesomely killed, it is up to Laura to discover who killed them and why.

The Wicked + The Divine is the coolest looking graphic novel I’ve seen in a while and the story packs a serious punch.  With plenty of pop cultural references and old school mythology, WicDiv, as the cool kids call it, is a graphic novel for all generations.  Check out volumes 1 and 2 together because you seriously won’t be able to put it down.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Wicked + The Divine.

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American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

american gods coverAfter living in the U.S. with his American wife for 9 years, British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman found himself wanting to write about, as he put it: “this strange, huge place where I now found myself living that I knew I didn’t understand.” He only had a vague idea of the story he wanted to write when he pitched it to his agent, who replied with a concept book cover. Gaiman found it both exhilarating and intimidating to have the cover of a book that he hadn’t written yet. He spent the next two years gathering the story together piece by piece as he toured the country by car and train. Most of the places he visited, from back road Jacksonville to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, made it into the book not just as a setting but as an integral part of the story itself.

Taciturn and soft-spoken Shadow has just been released from prison and is eager to get back to his wife and put the whole terrible jailbird experience behind him. But when tragedy strikes, Shadow feels he has little left to live for. That’s when a man who calls himself Mr Wednesday offers Shadow a job, and a road trip of mythic proportions begins.

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