Books in the Park

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


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The Secret Panel (Hardy Boys #25), by Franklin W. Dixon

We recently found the somewhat spooky obituary of the Widow Lankamp, a former Librarian at the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library. Here is a review of her favorite book, as reviewed by one of our current librarians:

The Secret Panel (Hardy Boys #25), by Franklin W. Dixon

Another exciting mystery begins for Frank and Joe Hardy when they help a stranger who has had an accident with his car. The man introduces himself as John Mead, owner of a nearby estate. After he continues on his way, Frank finds an odd-looking house key which belongs to Mead. But when the Hardy’s try to return it, they learn that John Mead died five years ago! They are even more amazed when they find that the intricately carved doors in the dead man’s deserted mansion have no visible knobs or key locks. While working on this mystery, the boys assist their detective father in tracking down a highly organized ring of thieves who are robbing warehouses of television and stereo equipment.

What happens when Frank and Joe discover that there is a link between Mr. Hardy’s case and the mysterious Mead mansion will keep the reader on edge with thrills and suspense.

Fun Fact: The Secret Panel is part of a huge series called “The Hardy Boys.” by Franklin W. Dixon. But Franklin W. Dixon is actually a pen name and never actually existed. The original creator of The Hardy Boys was Edward L. Stratemeyer, and he hired other authors to write more books for his series.

It is no secret to our staff that dear old Widow Lankamp had taken a liking to this book back in the day. Seems she loved mystery and suspense. Too often, this particular book at our library mysteriously falls to the floor for no reason whatsoever. The library did have a first edition copy of this title on our shelves, however it went missing in the 1950’s and the current copies tend to go missing quite often. Check this book out if you dare…

#EscapeTheHauntedLibrary


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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 terribleminds.com 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 Creeps, by Chris Schweizer

creeps-schweizerCarol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario are not popular. Their investigations into the bizarre happenings of their sleepy town have raised the ire of their classmates, their teachers, and even the police. Throughout Pumpkins County they are known as “The Creeps”. Not to say their title isn’t apt; on any given day the gang could find themselves elbow deep in reanimated frog corpses or fighting a mutant pudding monster (creepy stuff), but the ill-will from the townsfolk is completely unwarranted! How many times have these kids saved the town? Lots, just ask them, they’ll tell you! But nobody seems to care about the monsters that threaten the fine folk of Pumpkins County, and so The Creeps will continue their thankless job.

This title currently consists of three volumes, and each one is amazing. The Creeps is marked as juvenile fiction, but I would strongly recommend it to all graphic novel readers. *This series is marked as “multi-cultural”, meaning that roughly 60% of the characters you see on the page are not white. This helps to make Pumpkins County an amazing display of diversity. The townsfolk come in every color, size, shape, and even social circle that humans can come in. You’ll see farmers, punks, jocks, little old ladies, and environmentalists walking the streets. Almost any reader could pick up this book and see a character that reflects them.

Additionally, Schweizer takes care to depict the townsfolk as people who are worth saving, even though they can be cruel. Even the most rotten school bullies are rendered likable to some degree. The most lovable characters of all, though are the Creeps. Each character has their own unique skills and hobbies that complement the group’s goals, making them the perfect mystery solving team. Possibly the very best part of the book, however, is the relationship the Creeps have with one another. Carol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario joke and pick on each other good-naturedly, but when the stakes are high, they are there for each other 100%.

Each volume of The Creeps is humorous, harrowing, a little bit touching, and completely charming. The volumes are episodic, and there is no need to read them in a certain order. So pick up a volume of The Creeps today!

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Creeps.


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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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The Raven Cycle series, by Maggie Stiefvater

raven-boys-stiefvaterA family of psychics, a prophecy of death to a first true love, a boy who once cheated certain demise, an ancient legendary king who will grant one wish to the one who discovers him, rolling Virginia hills, mysterious ancient magic that lives in forests—you had me at hello.

Enter Blue Sargent, a seemingly typical teenage girl who is trying to get through school, works a part time job at a local pizza joint, and wants to move out of her small town in Virginia once she graduates. Seems normal, right? Wrong. Blue belongs to a family of psychics who perform all manner of fortune telling, tarot card reading, phone psychic hot line, bowl scrying, talk to the trees type stuff. Except, Blue seems to be the only member of the family who does not possess the gift. She is a major player in the family business, however, due to her ability to amplify their psychic powers.

The story begins on St. Mark’s Eve, where Blue sits at midnight in a church with her aunt, Neeve. Blue’s duty is to write down the names of all souls who pass into the church—souls that will perish in the coming year. Blue, of course, cannot see these souls. However, this St. Mark’s Eve proves to be different than from those in the past. One soul she is able to see. A teenage boy, wearing the sweater of the local all-boys private academy, Aglionby, drenched and whose name, he tells her, is Gansey. Blue seems struck at how close this boy feels to her and wonders why she is able to see this ghost when she cannot see any other. Neeve simply replies, “There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue. Either you’re his true love, or you killed him.”

And so begins the story of Blue Sargent joining Richard Gancey, Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny on a quest to find the ancient sleeping Welsh king, Glendower, who is rumored to be slumbering in the mountains of Virginia. The readers know from the get-go that Gansey faces impending doom and we read the story because, like Blue, we are railing against it. Along the way we discover hidden magical realms, remarkable talents that have been kept secret from the closest of friends, and characters that should not be walking on this Earth but seem to find a way. Fans of urban fantasy should sink their teeth into this juicy steak of a series.

Unfortunately, I had to wait for the release of each book with bated breath—The Raven Boys; The Dream Thieves; Blue Lily, Lily Blue; and The Raven King. But you, oh lucky reader, can devour this entire series as fast as your little eyes will allow. Enjoy it! It truly is one of the very best teen series I have read, and I’ve read so, so many.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Raven Cycle series.


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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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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.