Books in the Park

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

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The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Starr Williams is 16 years old and has seen two of her best friends die from gunshot wounds. Starr Williams is 16 years old and has seen two of her best friends die from gunshot wounds.

Starr and her family – her father, mother, older half-brother, and younger brother – live in Garden Heights. Despite the name, there’s not much beauty to be found there. Weeds spring up from the sidewalk and drugs can be found on almost any street corner. Starr’s parents send her and her siblings to a private school 45 minutes away. When their spring break ends, Starr’s best friends talk about their vacations to summer homes in the Bahamas, a trip to Taipei, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Starr saw her oldest friend shot to death by a police officer after being pulled over for a broken tail-light.

Starr faces pressure in her neighborhood to speak up and be a voice against the violence, but is hesitant. She is fearful of retaliation by the members of the local gangs, the police, and worries about how she’ll lead a normal life once everyone at her school finds out.

When Starr returns to school after break, after the reader has been introduced to “Garden Heights Starr,” we quickly meet “Williamson Starr.” Williamson Starr does not use curse words. She says ‘no sir’ and ‘yes ma’am.’ She is also one of only two black students in her junior class. Her best friends, Haley and Maya, face little difficulty in their lives. They don’t know “Garden Heights Starr.” They have been friends for years, but the relationship seems strained as they grow older.

Outside of Williamson, Starr must learn to find and develop a voice strong enough to raise in defense of herself, her family, her fallen friends, and her community. By the end of the novel, Starr is a force to be reckoned with and is so much more than “the witness.”

I urge you to check out The Hate U Give, which has been a stunning debut novel from Angie Thomas. You will not put it down until the last page has turned and the last name has been read.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Hate U Give. 

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Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

As a reader, I often range wide in getting my reading fix, and find myself following many authors’ blogs. Ones that are clearly creations of a publisher’s marketing department I quickly unfollow, but there are many authors whose unique voice resonates on their blogs as in their writing.

Which brings me to Chuck Wendig, an author whose blog I’ve followed for years. He writes about politics, his son, food, games and the gaming industry, but, mostly, about writing. He is irreverent and funny and, occasionally, not safe for work (visit his blog with that in mind).

Having read his blog and followed him on Twitter for years, I was talking with another reader about how I liked reading author blogs, and recommended Chuck to him. Then I got the question: “What has he written?” I was stumped, and more than a little horrified that this talented author’s works had slipped past me.

Which brings me to Blackbirds. It is the first in the Miriam Black series, which follows the main character through her trials and tribulations in Mockingbird, Cormorant, and Thunderbird.

Miriam Black is in her early twenties and she knows how everyone dies. With skin-to-skin contact, she gets a vision of the death of anyone she touches. Whether death comes by car crash, suicide, heart attack, the lingering death of cancer or illness, Miriam need only touch a person to see their end. As you can imagine, this messes with Miriam’s head, and she wanders through America, surviving by dead-end jobs, scamming and hitching rides, and generally scraping along the fringes of society.

When she is picked up by a trucker named Louis, she shakes his hand and discovers to her horror that he will die a horrible death in thirty days while calling her name. The thing is – she’s tried to affect outcome of her visions in the past, and those interventions have led directly to the outcome she foresaw.

Careening between trying to avoid Louis and trying to help him, shadowy, evil figures act against her until fate, hope, love, greed, and evil come together in the final scene.

Wendig’s writing is crisp without being wordy, moving the story along quickly. The story flashes from the past, where the narrative takes place, to an interview Miriam Black is giving about her gift in the present. Miriam describes the events as a way to explain both her gift and its implications.

Miriam, as a character, has an excellent back story that reveals itself over time in intense scenes scattered throughout her young life. The other characters are well-drawn, and some are frightening in their amorality and approach to conflict. This is a gritty read and sometimes very violent. Wendig’s plotting and dialogue are tight, and you read from scene to scene with an impending sense of doom for all involved.

So, now I’ve read a book by Chuck Wendig, and I think you should too. Blackbirds is a great read from beginning to end, and the author makes you are about the characters, despite their flaws and baggage. As always with a series, if you like the character, you have more to read and watch the character evolve.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Blackbirds.

Find this title at your local library via WorldCat.

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The Clasp, by Sloane Crosley

clasp crosleyEver had a short story that you wish someone had made into a complete novel? Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” is hilariously expanded and modernized in the deft hands of Sloane Crosley. Her witty and insightful personal essay compilations, I Was Told There Would Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number, foretold a well-crafted, literary and fun fiction title if Crosley ever turned her hand to it, and The Clasp delivers.

Three college friends meet up eight years after graduation at a wealthy classmate’s wedding. It’s clear right away that the bright futures they had expected have wilted in the onslaught of adult life and the real world. Victor has been recently fired from his job with an Internet search engine company, Kezia has made a critical misstep in her designer jewelry career, and Nathaniel has dropped his literary pretensions to run into a wall as a TV writer. This love triangle (Victor loves Kezia, who loves Nathaniel), find a common cause in the search for a family heirloom, lost in Normandy in World War II. Much of the comedy and tension comes from the group’s inability to connect with each other and be their most essential selves while on this all-consuming quest.

Crosley’s writing is tight and carries you through both interpersonal drama, personal and societal insights, and references to de Maupassant’s original text with delightful ease. Sharp insights zing throughout the text, such as “The world was not subtle about telling single people what they were missing.” Who hasn’t felt that way in early post-college life?

If you want a book full of excellent snark which will make you laugh out loud, reflect, and wince, while having a good time, “The Clasp is for you.” Sloan is a sharp observer of her generation, and I look forward to essays, fiction or, really, anything she writes, tweets included.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Clasp.

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Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl rowellFangirl was an unassuming read. I picked it up because some friends had read it and because it had a cute cover. I did not realize that it would be the type of book that made me keep reading until I unexpectedly hit the last page.

Fangirl follows a young woman named Cather (but everyone calls her ‘Cath’). Cath is 18 and is starting her first year of college and, for the first time in her entire life, she is not sharing a room with her identical twin sister, Wren.

Cath settles into college where she is pursuing a degree in creative writing while also leading a secret life: she is an accomplished author of fanfiction based on the Simon Snow series by fictional author Gemma T. Leslie. Cath struggles a bit in her creative writing class as she departs from writing about Leslie’s characters, Simon and Baz. She must learn to write from her own experiences and create her own characters to be able to pass her writing class, which becomes easier as she learns to make friends besides her twin. Her roommate, Reagan, and friend Levi, keep her grounded in both of her worlds – the one where she is a college freshman, and the one where she has 20,000 readers following her story, “Carry On, Simon.”

Fangirl follows her entire freshman year and illustrates some of the most common things that new college students face – new friends, new relationships, and the distancing of oneself from their childhood.

Overall, I give this book a 4.5 out of 5. There were some moments where I wanted to scream at all of the characters for their youthful mistakes, but that just makes seeing them grow from them all that much better. I recommend this book for teenage and young adult readers (13+).

The book is followed by Carry On.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fangirl.

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Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

fifty shades jamesHaters are gonna hate. That’s how I’d like to start this review. I read Fifty Shades of Grey after binge-reading the Twilight series. I’ve had dozens of people tell me that Grey was just a Twilight fanfiction for adults and, well, that’s exactly what I wanted. No, of course it’s not great literature that you can one day pass down to your grandchildren and share your favorite passages. No, it’s not here to add anything interesting to the craft or to leave you with deep philosophical discussions. It exists to give all Twilight fans what they really wanted in absolutely the worst way. This grown woman refers to her naval area as her belly and it’s fantastic. I’ve never giggled more in a novel than I did reading this one. It’s just a lot of fun and almost a parody on the popular teen series.

In case you’ve been able to avoid the whole series, here’s a brief overview: Anastasia Steele is a recent college graduate who falls for the very serious and very rich Christian Grey. Through a series of encounters Anastasia properly exerts herself as a helpless human being who is pretty okay with her entire life being compromised to please a man. Christian does his best to be the least charming man in existence but yet is somehow completely irresistible. Their relationship is filled with taboo practices and a lot of lip biting.

Seriously, it’s hilarious. Did I mention she has a male best friend name Jose?! Read it, enjoy it, and pass it on to your friends. I’m not saying you gotta run out and get the whole series, but if you’re bored and got some free time go for it, booboo—I won’t judge you.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown

adultingBeing a grown-up is hard.  For those of us in our twenties or thirties struggling with the responsibilities of adulthood, this book is a godsend. Brown starts with the basics: how to clean, what things you absolutely must have in your home, and balancing your work and social lives.  When asked on her blog what qualifies her to write this advice, she responded: “Nothing, really. I am known to overdraw my banking account in six or seven transactions of $2.18 apiece; I forget to buy cat food and give my cat tuna, which she does not like; my windowsills are never actually clean in the corners, and until very recently, my breakfast of choice was cigarettes and sugar-free Rockstar energy drink. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night, so sure that I am not an adult and never will be. ‘I’m a sham,’ I whisper quietly in the dark”.

If you’re someone like me who regularly runs out of toilet paper or throws away perfectly good dishes instead of cleaning them, you’ll want to read this book cover to cover. Brown is hilarious yet informative, citing advice from people like Emily Post and Ina Garten–so you know it’s legit. For those of you who feel totally confident in your adult powers, you should check this book out anyways, because I bet you’ll learn something.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Adulting.