Books in the Park

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

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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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Library Playlist: The Expanse (2015 – )

expanse-season-oneI adore science fiction television, but lately it doesn’t seem as if it loves me back. Far too much of what’s appearing on TV right now is either dreadfully boring or so cheap and unconvincing that it looks like a craft project rather than a major television series. I get that this stuff is tricky, but aren’t we past the era when set design consisted of papier-mâché and Christmas lights? Yeah, there are a bounty of decent superhero shows right now, but fans of hard sci-fi like myself know that they don’t really count. Mix all that mediocrity with a new Star Trek series whose release date is about as fixed as a mirage and it’s easy to become discouraged. Imagine my surprise then that the SyFy Channel had paused from making Sharknado sequels to give us something pretty good. It’s time to rejoice: The Expanse is the space drama that we’ve been owed for some time now.

It’s two hundred years in the future, and humanity has spread throughout the Solar System. Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) has taken on the task of locating the now missing Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). Meanwhile, the destruction of the ice hauler Canterbury forces Executive Officer James Holden (Steven Strait) to make decisions that will embroil him and his crew in the midst of a potential interplanetary conflict. Back on Earth, the United Nations executive Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) hopes to stop a war before it begins. Soon, all three will discover that their paths converge upon a massive conspiracy, one that could have dire consequences for humanity.

Like complex political intrigue set against the backdrop of space? The Expanse might just be for you, with beautiful ships, celestial bodies, and space vistas augmenting a clever story of interplanetary intrigue. Still not convinced? How about rousing performances from a talented cast? Thomas Jane is awesome fun to watch as the cocky, hard-luck Miller, and Shohreh Aghdashloo is delightfully cunning as U.N. high official Avasarala. No doubt, The Expanse is a quality series, but it’s also an effort that is long overdue for the SyFy channel. In this golden era of TV, SyFy and its frequently lackluster attempts at dramatic television were always a disappointing oddity. Hopefully, The Expanse is not a fluke and we can expect more like it. Highly Recommended.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Expanse.

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Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight

reconstructing ameliaGrace Hall is not your typical high school. Very expensive and elite, the kids who graduate from this prep school go on to get Ivy League educations and work for Fortune 500 companies. Amelia has always been a hardworking and intelligent student who chose to stick with her quirky best friend instead of seeking popularity. But when Amelia is singled out to join the Maggies, a secret sorority, and her BFF isn’t, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Can she tell her mother, Kate, about the escalating hazing she must endure or about how she might just be in love? Kate is high-power attorney for an aggressive law firm in Manhattan. She doesn’t have a lot of free time but does her best to schedule weekly activities with Amelia. Kate is not proud of her past and has tried very hard since Amelia’s birth to overcome an overwhelming mistake. Things are going well for their little family; Amelia is excelling in school and Kate just landed a big case. But then, in the blink of an eye, Amelia is dead. Ruled a suicide, Kate must reconstruct her daughter’s life through e-mails, texts, and sordid websites to figure out just what exactly happened to her perfect daughter.

I really enjoyed this title because it rode the line between YA and adult mystery. It has these awesome little excerpts from an online gossip newsletter called gRaCeFULLY that are just hilarious. It confronts school bullying without being too preachy and has plenty of drama for young and old alike. Genuinely compelling and reminiscent of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, I recommend this title to those that love a little twist in their stories.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Reconstructing Amelia.

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Collateral (2004)

collateralWhen enjoying a film, there really is something to be said for eye-candy. And by that I’m not referring to budget-busting CGI or legions of glistening models that have decided to take a second career in acting. Certainly, Hollywood has no shortage of these sorts of productions, usually PG-13 creations intended as a cynical business proposal first and artistic endeavor second. Instead, I’m referring to the older and far more fundamental art of cinematography. It’s easy to forget the craft in a new age of dazzling visual effects, but films still ultimately result from a combination of performance and camera. Movies are photographic art, and without a capable cinematographer or director of photography to guide that second half of the film equation, no amount of visual effects can make a movie beautiful. However, the 2004 movie Collateral directed by Michael Mann respects this photographic tradition in beautiful fashion.

Cabbie and aspiring businessman Max (Jamie Foxx) begins yet another nightly grind operating his taxi on the neon streets of Los Angeles. After years of toil in an attempt to begin his own limo service, Max seems no closer to living out his dream but holds his head up high regardless. While doing his rounds, Max picks up the snappily dressed Vincent (Tom Cruise) who convinces him to rent out his cab for the entire night. Unusual as his requests to be ferried about are, Max seems willing to accommodate Vincent until he stumbles upon his violent handiwork. Now a hostage of this increasingly dangerous passenger, Max must work quickly to save himself and those he holds dear.

Collateral isn’t just an excellent film, it’s also a love letter to Los Angeles. I’ve seen no other movie that paints such a glorious picture of this city with its shots of shimmering nightlife, playful shadows, and neon reflections. Really, the city has so much personality it might as well be another character. With its sweeping shots filmed almost entirely in the dead of night, this is a project that would’ve been difficult to film correctly even for experienced cinematographers, but the cinematic expertise of Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron comes through in every shot. Despite dealing with some weird aging makeup and plot scenarios that make us wonder just how competent Vincent really is, Cruise nails his action sequences perfectly and emanates menace effectively. Jamie Foxx is just great as Max, likeable, vulnerable, and filled with determination all at the same time. His dramatic scenes struggling with Vincent’s callous nature all crackle with intensity.

Looking for powerful drama and stylish action in one film? Take a look at Collateral, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Collateral.

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The Wicker Man (2006)

wicker manThe 2006 version of The Wicker Man is the less successful remake of a 1973 film of the same name. I have yet to see the 1973 version, so I cannot comment on how closely the remake follows the original, but I can say that the original was highly acclaimed. The remake? Not so much.

Edward Malus is a troubled man. He is a police officer haunted by those he could not save. Benched on indefinite leave, he is roused from a depressive stupor when he receives a letter from his ex-fiancee, Willow, pleading for his help in finding her missing daughter, Rowan. He jumps at the chance to break his monotony and to actually help a person in need. But he realizes that the task of locating Rowan will be more difficult than he ever anticipated; Willow now lives on a remote island, in what appears to be a cult.

To be honest, this film is very, very bad. It is one part unintentional comedy, one part confusing mystery, and one part cautionary tale of what would happen if women had power. It is also 100% enjoyable if you like bad films.

Malus, played by Nicolas Cage, is so annoying, unlikable, and incompetent that I end up rooting for the antagonists, but considering the antagonists are a goddess-worshiping nature cult who keep all males of their society in a state of mute servitude, it is not hard to be charmed by them. They outwit Malus by using a combination of misdirection, feigned helplessness, and their feminine wiles in an act so stereotypical I thought I might be watching a film made in the 1960s. The menace and drama that was supposed to be created by this dystopian society falls flat because it relies on such heavy-handed, hyperbolic tropes about gender. The ultimate result was infinitely comical. I know I’m certainly going to be quoting this film’s dialogue in regular conversation.

I wouldn’t recommend this movie if you are looking for quality cinema, but if you are a connoisseur of bad films, you need to add this to your list.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Wicker Man.

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The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

grownup flynnThe narrator of this story, who goes unnamed, used to make a living as a prostitute of sorts until she gets promoted into a job as a psychic and rips off unsuspecting housewives with fake predictions. When one woman comes to her and pleads for her help, the narrator can’t miss an opportunity for some easy cash. The woman says her house might be haunted and her stepson is acting out in violent ways. The narrator thinks that a couple of quick trips to the home and some floor polish might deceive her client into the belief that the house has been cleansed. It quickly becomes evident that the pseudo-fortune teller is in over her head and what’s actually in this house might be the end of her.

The Grownup is a whopping 62 pages. I picked it up because I love Gillian Flynn’s creepy mysteries and needed a quick read. This, of course, is exactly what The Grownup is. Gillian Flynn is a master of the gritty mystery and with her new dip into the supernatural is pretty impressive. I didn’t want the book to end and wished it was a full length novel; I have so many questions.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Grownup.


The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

girl on the trainRachel’s life is in pieces. Her husband cheated on then left her, she lost her job because she’s developed quite an alcohol addiction, and her roommate wants her out immediately. She spends all of her time riding the commuter train she used to take back when she was still employed. Speeding by suburbia, Rachel becomes obsessed with a couple whom she often sees from the train window. They live just a few houses down from her ex-husband. She’s created elaborate stories for their lives and goes so far as to name them Jess and Jason. One night, while on a spectacular bender, Rachel gets off the train near her old home. What she sees and how she obtained some pretty serious injuries, she can’t recall the next morning. This, of course, has happened to her before, but this time a girl has gone missing—and it’s her Jess. Does Rachel know what happened to Jess deep in her subconscious? Will the police take her report seriously even if she does happen to remember something?

A few months back EVERYONE had to read Girl on the Train. The waiting list for this thriller was massive so I avoided it and made no move to secure a copy. The hype has died down now and I finally got me a copy. I read it in two days and I can definitely see why everyone was so excited about it. After Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn became a bestseller, readers were hungry for another dark and twisty mystery. Here it is. Unreliable narrators are one of my favorite literary devices and Rachel makes an excellent anti-hero. I recommend this title wholeheartedly.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl on the Train.