Books in the Park

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


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Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Every so often a science fiction author will have such an interesting, refreshing take on world-building that it makes you look at reality in a different way. The Hexarchate of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machinery of Empire series (of which Ninefox Gambit is the first) is such a universe. Organizing an entire space-faring culture around the effects of the calendar on genetics to enhance battle prowess is a unique and fascinating way to world-build a universe.

The book opens with Captain Kel Cheris winning a battle using unorthodox methods which put her at risk of being declared a heretic, a dangerous place for a young officer. She is allowed to redeem herself by the Hexarchate with a near-suicidal task of retaking a fallen space fortress. When asked what weapon systems she wants, she chooses an unusual way to win – she selects the mind of a brilliant, but dead general as her weapon. The one hitch – the general went insane after his last battle.

By adding this second mind to hers (in short, the process results in a constant conversation in her head between the general and herself), Cheris has the difficult task of taking advantage of the general’s prowess in battle without becoming too sympathetic to the general. It proves difficult because the general is, of all things, kind to her and helpful, belying the historical record of the mad general.

Filled with space battles and high stakes mathematical “calendar” calculations, the story unfolds as the general teases out Cheris’ feelings about the Hexarchate and the state of the world since he died. Lee is brilliant at explaining his universe without getting in the way of the story.  Through action, conversations and flashbacks, you find out details of calendrical warfare, the different races of the Hexarchate, as well as historical details about the general’s past and the events leading up to his last battle. The characters are sympathetic and have clear, if conflicting desires. The story of the Hexarchate continues in the next book, the Raven Stratagem.


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Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley

Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt

Take one pirate princess without a crew or a ship, add a heaping scoop of determination, and round it off with a band of misfits that come together under her colors and you have Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt. I expected action and adventure, but what kept me hooked was the witty humor and lovable characters.

Having previously been abandoned to a tower by herself to wait for her prince, Raven now faces an onslaught of the stereotypical male pirates as she begins her search for a crew. She hears everything from “not all men,” to “Help! I’m being oppressed by the matriarchy!” as she turns down man after man for the job. The crew comes together from women around town who are looking for new adventures. They’ve slayed the Goblin Kings in their table top games, now it’s time to band together and go search for real danger. Led by the new first mate, Katie (a.k.a. Muscles), a diverse crew of women rallies behind Raven to set out to reclaim her rightful place as the head of her family’s pirate enterprise.

The art in Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew was stunning – the scenes are all well drawn and dynamic and the story flowed easily from one panel to the next. Beyond the writing and artistic skill used to portray the women, I truly appreciated the diversity that is included among the crew. Yes, it is an all women crew, but you will not confuse one woman for another. They each have their own unique looks, backgrounds, interests, and dialogue style. Any Pirate Princess can pick up this graphic novel and see herself in its pages. This graphic novel is recommended for ages 9+ and is a quick, fun read for any girl (or their mom!) that’s ever dreamed of the sailing the seven seas.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Raven Pirate Princess: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, by Jeremy Whitley. 


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The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

I have several favorite authors that I routinely rely on for captivating stories that take me away from my everyday life and then stay with me long after I return their book. Anita Shreve is one of those authors. Her latest novel, The Stars Are Fire is based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine history. Shreve had me on the hook right away. Her latest novel is suspenseful and fast paced. It was easy to get lost in the story; not so easy to put it down until I found out how things turned out for Grace and her children.

It is October 1947 in Maine. Grace is a young wife and mother of limited means and resources, doing what it takes day by day to care for her husband and small children. Although she has a mom nearby and close friend, Rosie, to talk to and commiserate with, she struggles to make the most of her long days caring for her children and mostly absent husband.

After a summer long drought, a fire breaks out. While her husband goes off to help as a volunteer firefighter, Grace is left alone to fend for her children during the devastating fire.

The expert story telling puts you right in the coastal town where people are fighting for their lives and dealing with a tragedy too horrendous to fully comprehend. At times, I could not put the book down wondering how Grace was going to get out of certain situations. Compassionate strangers help Grace along the way. There are interesting side stories about these strangers and how they help Grace move forward in her new life.

Check out The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. You too may get lost in this suspenseful story and think of Grace and her children long after you return this book.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Stars are Fire.


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Gotham Academy, by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl

gotham-academy-cloonanOlive Silverlock attends Gotham Academy, the most prestigious boarding school in Gotham, and she is troubled. Not only is Olive’s mom locked up in Arkham Asylum for unknown reasons, but Olive is also haunted by hazy memories of a mysterious incident that happened over summer break. Closing herself off, Olive attempts to avoid Kyle Mizoguchi, her tennis player boyfriend who has the good looks of a K-Pop star. Unfortunately, she is forced to show his freshman sister, Maps, around campus. Add to these problems the innate secrets of Gotham Academy itself: the hidden passageways, the ghost haunting the campus, and the secret society running around, Olive is in for an interesting school year.

There is so much to love about Gotham Academy! It’s been described as Harry Potter meets Batman, and it doesn’t disappoint. Harry Potter fans will appreciate the mystery solving, allusions to magic, and the boarding school dynamics. Batman fans will appreciate the many Easter eggs and guest stars. Bruce Wayne gives a speech at the Academy and he swings onto the scene a couple of times as his alter ego, Batman. There are other familiar elements tossed into Olive’s experience too like a reference to the Langstrom virus and a surprisingly fun appearance by Killer Croc. For Batman fans, it’s fun to see Gotham from the perspective of new characters. It gives an already familiar setting more depth.

None of this, however, takes away from Olive’s story. Perhaps the best part of all is how even readers who know nothing about the Bat-Mythos will still enjoy this book. Olive’s story skillfully intertwines these elements, but they aren’t the point of her story. Readers who aren’t interested in typical superhero comics or who don’t know much about Batman needn’t shy away from Gotham Academy. The new stories and characters it offers definitely stand up on their own. One of the most delightful of these new creations is the character Maps. She’s got the spunky but steadfast sidekick thing down pat. But, she’s a great character in her own right. Her enthusiasm for the D&D-like game, Serpents & Spells, and her love of cartography (which gives her the nickname Maps) is fun, cool, and adorable.

Overall, readers of all ages will find Gotham Academy enjoyable. It’s got great art, smart storytelling, a diverse cast, and a bunch of mysteries that need unraveling. Also, don’t miss the crossover Gotham Academy is currently doing with the comic book Lumberjanes. Read about it here.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Gotham Academy.


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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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The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

other-peoples-houses

I really enjoy books that take me to a time or place very different from my own. Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese is one such title, with its tale of a young Native American man reconnecting with his father.  The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is another such book.  The setting in Alaska’s early days of statehood, its environment of rough-and-ready native hunting and fishing families, and its narrative related by four very different voices from four very different perspectives really succeed in placing the reader in that different time and place.

Four children’s perspectives are woven throughout this story, which is broken into the events of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Ruth suffered the loss of one parent to a plane crash, then another as her mother loses her mind from grief. Dora wants to get out of her life, but doesn’t trust her luck when it happens. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away from home than to stay, and Alyce works hard practicing dancing but her hard work on her father’s fishing boat threatens to keep her from her dreams—or does it?

What’s notable in this book is the children’s assumption of agency. At some point, they take control of their lives. They have seen what their lives are and know it is up to them to embrace or reject the status quo. With this, the characters all play a role in other characters’ lives, whether it’s as an instigator, a beacon of hope, or a fellow traveler in their lives’ journeys. The gentle interaction between all their stories remind us that we can all be catalysts for each other, even though we suspect we have nothing to offer.

This book works as a coming of age story (well, four coming of ages) as well as a peek into another life and world that can illuminate our own. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s narrative is well constructed and solidly grounded in Alaskan life. Good authors can make a setting feel real, but great authors make you feel as if you are there. Read this book and be transported to 1970s Alaska—you won’t regret it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Smell of Other People’s Houses.


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The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

wild-robot-brownWhen Roz the robot is shipwrecked on a tiny island, she has only her basic programming to guide her. Roz is not built for the outdoors, but she is designed to be adaptable, thoughtful, and intelligent, and she soon realizes that her best hope for survival is to learn and gain support from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. Gaining the animal’s trust takes time and it’s only when she tries to care for an orphaned gosling that the other animals finally decide to help her. The island starts to feel like home to Roz until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown’s first novel. Brown, known for his children’s picture books, such as Children Make Terrible Pets, has totally succeeded in producing an utterly charming first novel. Though The Wild Robot starts off slow, once Roz learns the language of the animals, the story flourishes. The animals of the island all have big personalities and Roz begins to form friendships with them, like with Chitchat the squirrel and Loudwing the goose. Roz solicits their help to care for the gosling Brightbill who she becomes a mother to. Roz and Brightbill eventually become invaluable members of the island community. Roz even helps the animals survive through a grueling winter by teaching them to make fire.

This book has been compared to Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. Readers who enjoy these types of survivalist stories will definitely be drawn into Roz’s tale. It could also be compared to Stuart Little. Both are stories about extraordinary protagonists who don’t quite belong and through adventure and perseverance make a life for themselves. Lovers of these types of stories as well as both robot and animal lovers will find something to delight in here. For adult readers, The Wild Robot makes a great parenting story and the philosophical questions that naturally arise between robot Roz and living animal Brightbill can be in turns both fun and thoughtful. With such a wide appeal, Brown’s book can also be enjoyed together as a read aloud for younger children. No one should miss out on this sparkling book!

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Wild Robot.