Books in the Park

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

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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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On the Fence: As Above So Below (2014)

on the fence as above so below

First before I say anything else, let me state that I really enjoyed this movie. This review is On the Fence because I know it is not to everyone’s liking.

Scarlet Marlowe is an intrepid modern day alchemy scholar who is questing for the Philosopher’s Stone… Stop that! Don’t laugh! She has worked all her life to be taken seriously! In a homage to her late father’s life’s work, she has been researching and hunting for evidence that the Stone actually exists, and she may have just found her big break in an ancient buried temple in Iran. It is a completely legitimate line of work… Stop laughing!

Heading to Paris to follow up on her latest discovery, Scarlett and aspiring film-maker Benji begin to document the search. They hit a road block pretty quickly when they discover the next step in the search lies deep in the Catacombs of Paris. Scarlett enlists the help of her spurned ex, George, who in turn enlists the help of a gang of French scamps, whose specialty just so happens to be hanging out in creepy catacombs.

Once they head underground– well, Randy Cordova sums it up best in his review of the film for

“Once the characters go underground, things start happening. Not scary things, mind you, but things.”

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On the Fence: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

blog on the fence freedom franzenFreedom follows the lives of the Burglund family, a well-to-do middle class family that appears to have it all: pretty couple, pretty children, pretty neighborhood. As the story progresses and the characters are filled in, however, it becomes apparent that Patty and Walter Burglunds’ marriage has been falling apart basically since day one. Patty feels like she settled for wholesome Walter when her dream man and indie musician, Richard Katz, is out there living the life she always wanted. Richard and Walter were roommates in college and nearly inseparable until Patty started hanging around and Richard’s career really started taking off. Walter is unfulfilled in his career and fed up with Patty’s erratic behavior. When the family moves to Washington D.C. so that Walter can follow his dream of being an environmental activist, everything changes. Patty reconnects with Richard, Walter’s stunning and foreign assistant falls in love with him, and their now adult son gets in the business of selling some pretty sketch materials to suppliers in the Iraq war. Told from different perspectives and partially through Patty’s therapeutic autobiography, the reader gets an eclectic account of the lives of the Burglands and those touched by their story.

Oprah and President Obama both loved this book, calling it “terrific” and “a masterpiece”. This is quite some heavy praise coming from an overwhelmingly respected audience. It was originally released in 2010 and I just got around to reading it after listening to someone on NPR gush about it earlier this year. To be honest, it was definitely great. There is no doubt that it kept me interested, turning the pages, and waiting for some vastly amazing climax. Franzen’s prose and attention to the littlest detail makes this close to the most epic novel I have ever read. Seriously, all the makings of an American classic novel are here. But… it just felt so pretentious. Does anyone care about the first world problems of white, upper-middle class mid-westerners? Affairs, financial corruption, the woes of a lost inheritance—it was all so unreal. Does anyone live like this? Then again, I’m not sure Franzen wrote any of his characters to be truly likeable, which in a way does make them human. Franzen also pushes a pretty left-ish political agenda and while I don’t disagree with it, his points feel a little heavy-handed and unnecessary as his audience is generally pretty liberal anyway.

Should you read this? Yeah. Probably. Maybe. You won’t have to fight for a copy anymore, so there’s that. Maybe get it on audio and listen to it while you’re commuting so that the next time you’re at a waspy dinner party you have something to talk about.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Freedom.

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On the Fence: Silent House (2011)

blog on the fence silent house

This is an American remake of a Uruguayan Film, La Casa Muda. It should be noted that, even though I give it a lukewarm review, Silent House piqued my interest enough for me to put the original on my ‘to be watched’ list.

Sarah is an out of school/out of work young person who, for lack of anything better to do, is assisting her father and uncle in the renovation of her family’s Victorian house. This situation is hardly ideal; the house has black mold, her father is condescending, and her uncle is flirting with her. Sarah’s primary job is to clear out the closets full of family memorabilia, and stay out of the way. One evening, as night is closing in, her uncle leaves for town. Sarah hears a commotion in another room, and finds her father has gone missing. As one might imagine, things go downhill from there, and Sarah must face off against mysterious intruders.

I am on the fence about this movie because I loved the first half, but was disappointed by the second half. In the first half, Sarah must endure terrifying situations, and she does so flawlessly (well, in a way). She sobs, blubbers, and shrieks as much as anyone would in that situation, but for all her tears, Sarah shows herself to be amazingly competent, deftly avoiding peril. In the second half, we learn more of the family history, and what exactly is haunting the house. This all culminates in a big reveal, which doesn’t completely undermine Sarah’s competence in the first half of the film, but does so enough for me to feel let down.

Despite this, Silent House proves to be a thoroughly eerie movie. It was made to look as if it was shot in one continuous take, which adds to the scariness, making it feel like the viewer is a participant rather than watcher.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Silent House.

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On the Fence: ‘Go Set a Watchman’

blog on the fence go set a watchman

Over the past month, a few patrons have asked me: “Should I read Go Set a Watchman?” After reading the book myself, allow me to answer that question with this rant.

The short answer: No.

The long answer: Probably not, unless you have a special interest in the craft of fiction.

First of all, let me clear something up: Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, even though its publishers have implied that in their pitch to sell it. The two books feature characters that differ in personality and just happen to share the same names. While it’s true that Go Set a Watchman is an early draft of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, I will keep them separate in my mind forever and always. Go Set a Watchman is the caterpillar; To Kill a Mockingbird is the butterfly.

Like many Americans, To Kill a Mockingbird holds a special place in my heart. I’ve read it many times at different points in my life and always find something new to contemplate. When I was a teenager, I was taken with the portrayal of a seemingly idyllic childhood: I envied Scout’s freedom and precociousness. When I was in college, I pined for a parental figure like Atticus or Calpurnia who could always tell me what was morally right. But, recently, as racial tension thickens amid accusations of mistreatment toward black Americans by law enforcement especially, the racism theme in To Kill a Mockingbird has never made more sense to me.

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