Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

Towards Zero - WikipediaWhat do a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a young girl, and the romantic life of a famous tennis player have in common? At first glance, apparently nothing. But dig a little deeper under the surface of Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero, and you’ll find that nothing is as it seems, especially at Gull’s Point.

Superintendent Battle may be in over his head when he takes up the murder case of elderly widow Lady Tressilian, who was killed in her own seaside home at Gull’s Point. While it appears to be an open-and-shut case against her primary beneficiary, the wealthy sportsman Nevile Strange, new evidence comes to light that gives Strange an airtight alibi, leaving Battle with the question: who in the house wants to see Nevile Strange dead?

There is no shortage of suspects, and one thing is clear – nearly everyone in the house has a dislike for Nevile Strange. In the midst of this drama lies the strange nature of Nevile Strange’s love life, who divorced his ex-wife Audrey to be with a new woman, Kay. However, Strange’s true feelings may not lie with the law, and no one ever knows what Mrs. Audrey Strange is thinking…

In this slow-moving chess game of a mystery novel, Towards Zero will change the way you read murder mysteries (and Agatha Christie) forever. This book is recommended to all fans of the Queen of Mystery, or if you’re just looking for a new action/mystery book to occupy yourself with.

-Mahak M. 

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie - Agatha ChristieA string of Pekinese kidnappings…a romance left half-finished by the strange disappearance of a young woman…a malicious Parisian gangster fleeing to one of the most remote places on Earth…the largest political scandal in England…a stolen painting and a kidnapped schoolgirl…a series of women dying under odd circumstances, only connected by a mysterious religious sect…an innocent woman on the verge of being framed for a dastardly crime…. 

The only thing that connects these decidedly unusual yet distinctly unrelated cases is one man, and one man alone: the great Hercule Poirot (and his mustaches).

Based on the original Labours of Hercules, Poirot endeavors to act in his namesake by carefully selecting twelve special cases before his retirement from detective work in order to cultivate vegetable marrows.. From the Nemean Lion to the Erymanthian Boar, from the Flock of Geryon to the Capture of Cerberus, Poirot will stop at nothing to bring criminals to justice, and, on occasion, to take matters into his own private hands.  

While writing short stories isn’t standard fare for Agatha Christie, this collection of twelve short stories is the perfect mix of murder, intrigue, and Hercule Poirot (featuring his little grey cells) that any fan of the celebrated Queen of Mystery will surely not be disappointed.

-Mahak M. 

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Stay Home – Don’t Stay Bored

2020 has proven to be a difficult year. Each and every one of us is trying each end every day better than the one before it. Even if we are not directly affected by the Corona Virus either by loss of a loved one, a family member on the front lines or an essential worker, we can all do our part by staying home. In an effort to ease the pain and self control required for this, we turn to the media to keep us entertained and content. This leads to us powering through our pile of “to read” books, binging Netflix and catching up on YouTube series. The next day we turn around and all of the things that we thought we were never going to get to are done. We are like the hero of a story just after the climax. We are in the “what now?” period of the resolution in the narrative of our media consumption journey. Below are 11 different types of book suggestions to restock your inventory of “to read” books so you can have a new goal to work towards.

  1. A series:  Eye roll, I know.  But hear me out when I say completing a series over Quarantine will make you feel accomplished.  You know how you feel when you finish a book and pride comes over you?  When you read a series, multiple storylines together, you just one the book Olympics!  Series can be daunting to some but they are very rewarding.  Sure they take more time to finish that just one book but in the end you will ultimately feel refreshed.  Besides, you have time nowadays anyway, right? 

Some suggestions for book series that are tried and true are:  The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series, The Harry Potter series, The Giver Series and the Time Quintet Series (Starts with A Wrinkle In Time).

  1. Books all by the same author: Similar to a book series but different storylines.  Reading different books by the same author is a good way to study their writing style.  This can be immensely 
  2. helpful for people who would like to become a writer themselves.  This can be extra effective when you read a set of books by one author and then another set from a different author to compare their styles.  Want to take it a step further?  Read a group of books from different authors from relatively the same timeframe to set them in an even playing field.  This can be a really insightful tool to study writing styles and techniques.  Some author suggestions who have a large assortment of books to choose from who tend not to write in a series are:  Charles Dickens(Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma), and John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns).
  1. A fairytale:  If you’re anything like me you are a sucker for the videos on YouTube that harold, “The True story of Peter Pan!” or “What Really happened in Alice in Wonderland?” and even, “The Untold Truth of Cinderella!”.  Yah, I’m a little addicted to these.  Maybe it’s because I feel cheered by society that they altered the story.  Maybe it’s because I genuinely want to know what happened in the story.  Maybe, if I accept the video’s version of truth, I can infer so much more about the societies which told these stories.  In any event, seeing a different take on these classic stories makes me think.  So, reading a fairy tale could be fun for you to.  Sometimes you can buy or listen to just one story but more likely they will come in a collection with other stories so you can see all of the ones Disney rejected.  However, if you think that these are going to be cute and all have happy endings like the Disney movies, do yourself a favor and don’t use them as a bedtime story as you are led to believe that they were.  Some suggestions for collections of fairy tales are: The Brothers Grimm Stories(Most copies should include Repunzel, Hansel and Gretal, Cinderella, Little Red Cap aka Little Red Riding Hood, The Sleeping Beauty or it may be revered to as Briar Rose, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Iron John etc.), The Complete Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, The Ice Maiden etc,) and also even though it is not really a classic Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling is a really quaint book and you don’t have to know anything about Harry Potter to read it.  
  1. Plays, screenplays and scripts:  Tired of watching shows?  Read one instead!  I always like to read the screenplay of different shows or movies that I have watched and come across a certain line where I couldn’t tell what the character was saying and see it laid out on the page so I can finally tell.  Moreover, sometimes it’s just nice to read something straight on without all of the prose that is in an ordinary book.  Some suggestions of plays, screenplays and scripts are: The works of William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream etc.), The screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Truman Show Screenplay.
  1. Poems:  I know, eye roll again!  You’re not a poem person, I get it.  Poems can be very small.  Just try some tiny ones.  Like vegetables, if you have a little of them every day, eventually you will like them, I promise.  Poems get stereotyped as “old fashioned” and “boring”.  I say to those haters that they just have not found a poet that they like.  There are so many great modern poets who write in words that anyone could understand.  Please give these poems some consideration: The House on Mango Street (a novel written in vignets) or anything by Shel Silverstein and/or Robert Frost and if you do like poems challenge yourself with something like the Iliad and the Odyssey, epic poems accredited to Homer.
  1. Historical Fiction:  While you are sitting at home complaining about quarantine, read a historical fiction book so that you remember how good you have it while you are “suffering” with running water and electricity.  Ooh, burn!  But not all historical fiction is dark and depressing.  Some of it has happy endings.  For example, if the protagonist is an American soldier in the Revolutionary War and survives or an enslaved individual who makes it to freedom.  Historical fiction can be a great way to reflect on the past and appreciate the present.  Some examples of historical fiction include Number the Stars, Johnny Tramain, and (eye roll, I know you will it’s okay) The Magic Treehouse Series!
  • As a side note, biographies or autobiographies about or by a certain historical figure can tell you a lot about a certain time period that you are interested in.  Examples include Anne Frank’s Diary and Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave.
  • Also, any piece of text written during the time period you were interested in can teach you about it.  So, if you like the Victorian Era, read  Harlem’s Dickens who wrote books which took place in Victorian England.  
  1. Short Stories:  Short and sweet, these stories give you a little taste of literature without commiting to an entire book.  I find that short stories are often more passionate than a full length novel because they are more condensed.  Some short stories that I deeply treasure are:  The Mongoose by Rudyard Kipling, Harrison Bugeron by Kurt Vonnegut, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
  1. Books for kids!:  Maybe you are a kid.  Maybe you know one.  Maybe you want to pretend that you are a kid.  In any event, kids books are fun to read.  I love looking through my old books just to remember old times.  Should you find yourself in any of the above three descriptions, here are a few recommendations:  It’s Mine by Leo Leionni, The Story of Zachary Zween by Mabel Watts, Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson and Charlotte Voake, The Madeline Series by Ludwig Bemelmans and anything by Rohld Dahl.
  1. Choose your own story books:  A surprisingly few people know about the wonders of choosing your own story books.  For those who do not know, a choose your own story book is exactly what it sounds like, a book where the plot pitchforks and you choose what happens next.  For example, let’s pretend that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a choose your own adventure book.  The book would go something like: Now it was Harry’s turn to get sorted into a Hogwarts house.  He comes up to the stool and Professor McGonagal places the hat on his head.  “Hm” the hat said, “You would do well in Slytherin or Gryffindor, which one would you rather have Harry?”.  Then there is a pause in the story and there are two options.  One would go something like: If you choose option A, Slytherin, then to page 72 and If you chose option B, Gruffindor, turn to page 85.  From there, you would get a different version of the story that goes back and forth and all around making each reader’s experience different.  These are really cool books that you are sure to have a good time with; Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton, My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran, To Be Or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North and Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure also by Ryan North.
  1. Mystery:  With your new skills from choosing your own adventure books, you will be able to envision dozens of ways a crime could have worked out in a mystery book!  Don’t be scared, not all mystery books are bloody and gruesome with vivid descriptions of a corpse, although as a full disclaimer many are.  In my view, mystery books are a great way to get your mind “up off the couch” while you have not moved all day.  Without even realizing it, mystery books keep your brain sharp which is something we could all use right now.  You will end up spending all of your free time trying to riddle out “who done it”, thereby working your brain’s reasoning and logical thinking muscles.  They say that you may as well use the time spent in quarantine to work on a skill.  Your friends may come out better at art, better chefs, some may have knit scarfed for everybody, but you my friend will be ready to be a full on detective.  Up to the challenge?  Try these gripping mystery books:  The Nancy Drew series by Mildred Wirt Benson and anything by the queen of mystery, Agatha Christie, such The ABC Murders, And Then There Were None, and Death on the Nile.

I know you are bored, I am too. I know you are tired of quarantine, I am too. But if these book suggestions tempt you to stay in bed and stay home to read for a little while, making quarantine just a little more bearable, then I feel that I have done some good in our ever-changing world.

– Ainsley H

Curse of the Dead Gods Review

Curse of the Dead Gods, produced by Focus Home Interactive, is an exciting new third-person adventure game. As you follow an exotic adventurer journey through ancient temples, you will face multiple traps, enemies, and challenges. You can unlock certain abilities, as well as different weapons that can help you in your challenges. You can mix and match different combinations of the weapons to give you the best advantage against the enemies. The game also implements a new and interesting concept known as corruption.

The first thing that caught my eye was the combat, as well as the animation. Both are extremely clean and are very, very high quality. As the player switches from their torch, to their weapon, darkness surrounds them and the enemies start swarming. As the players start to wipe out the foes, more and more start to appear. The players must be extremely careful because if they take damage, they can not recharge their health. If a player dies, they must restart from the beginning of the map, and work their way through the entire temple again.

The enemies themselves are very interesting. From monsters that have simple melee attacks to giant monsters that have giant war hammers and floating heads, the variety is endless. This large amount of adversaries keeps the game interesting, as well as challenging. The player will also run into multiple traps. These can harm the players in multiple ways, such as poisoning them, catching them on fire, and stabbing them. Both of these challenges can totally change what the player needs to do.

To help counter these problems, the player is given a wide variety of weapons. The player is provided with a sword, revolver, and torch at the beginning of the game. They can then unlock a broad assortment of weapons through chests as well as through enemies that will drop them. There are certain weapons that work better against different enemies, such as the battle hammer that is efficient against large groups.

The most interesting concept of this game is the curses and corruption. When a player completes each level, they will get a certain amount of points that count towards corruption. When they reach 100 points, they will receive a certain “curse” that can either help or hinder them. This is a really interesting concept, but I do not think players should be punished just because they finish a mission.

Overall, I really enjoyed Curse of the Dead Gods. I really enjoyed the combat and customization options, and I think that for an early access game, Curse of the Dead Gods is really well produced. This game reminded me of the old arcade games that I used to spend hours playing. I feel that when the game has new temples and maps released, I will definitely play more of the game. I can’t wait to see what the producers have in mind for the game, and I believe the game will become one of my favorites!

-Daniel C

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Caesar is one of William Shakespeare’s best plays. It not only portrays the friendship of two major characters but also describes how democracy, instead of tyranny, is the best way to govern a nation and protect the rights of its citizens.

In this post, I would like to explain why, Brutus, in my opinion, is a patriot instead of a traitor. First, he killed Caesar because he thinks that it is the only way to save Rome from a dictatorship. Signs of corruption and power in Caesar warns Brutus that a tyrant is in sight. Therefore, he killed Caesar for the common good and to ensure democracy.

Another reason why killing Caesar can be justified as a way of patriotism is because the benefit equal representation in Senate brings outweighs the loss of Caesar. The plebeians do not know how the government operates, and therefore, they don’t know Caesar’s selfish plans and his personality. Hence, it is Brutus’ responsibility to assure that the Roman citizens’ rights are not taken away. If Brutus is already aware of others will accuse him of murdering his best friend and be entitled to that of a traitor, yet he still chooses to do it, this proves that he is a person who values his country above his personal relations.

-Coreen C. 

Julius Caesar is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Ever since its infamous publication in 2003, The Da Vinci Code has succeeded largely in two things: become a massive international bestseller and stir up a contentious brew of religious controversy and criticism.

Controversy aside, I have to first applaud Dan Brown’s skill in weaving together an excellent thriller. When I first saw how thick the book was (689 pages; and I usually only exercise that sort of brainpower and patience with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson), I thought that Dan Brown better have a good story to tell.

Let me just say…he rose to the challenge and completely destroyed it.

My previous conceptions on the book were way off. I had this skewed idea that it was a biography of Leonardo da Vinci’s, ah, complex life, but it’s far more intriguing than that. In fact, the whole book is entangled in a complex matrix of enigmatic riddles, secret societies (ooh!), and the constant hit-or-miss run of the two fugitive protagonists, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu.

Langdon is a professor at Harvard–very prestigious, I know–and he studies the meanings of hidden symbols (sign me up for his class, please). He is drawn together to the other main character, Sophie Neveu, who is the granddaughter of a famous curator, Jacques Sauniere, through the mysterious death of Sauniere in the Louvre. Fair warning: this book is pretty intense. It literally starts with the curator’s murder by the hand of a monk under the religious group Opus Dei, but honestly, I don’t mind these intense openings, which makes me sound extremely psychotic. Guys, I promise the book didn’t ruin me.

Anyways, we eventually discover that Sauniere is part of a brotherhood, the Priory of Sion, that is devoted to the preservation of the pagan goddess worship tradition, and believed to be once led by Leonarda da Vinci (see, you knew da Vinci was in the title for a reason!), and that Sauniere is the last living member of the brotherhood. So that means…all their secrets are about to die! How could they!

Yeah, sorry. Jacques Sauniere outplayed us all, the genius man. Through excruciating pain before his death, he creates riddles and drawings around the exhibition, leading Neveu and Langdon on the most epic scavenger hunt I have ever witnessed. Sauniere doesn’t plan on having the secrets of the Priory lost anytime soon, and he trusts Langdon and Neveu to solve his puzzles and discover the truth. To be completely honest, Neveu and Langdon seriously make me question my IQ. I mean, they somehow escape the Louvre, slipping through the grasp of the French police by means of a bar of soap and a garbage truck (read the book to find out; the scene is pure gold, so I can’t elaborate too much >:) ). This might sound sort of cringy, but trust me, you have got to read this book, because you won’t put it down. Ever. How Dan Brown comes up with the puzzles in the story, the whole plot, the creative ways of escaping…it’s beyond me. At this point, I’m convinced that if anyone knows how to evade the FBI and disappear off the face of the planet, it’s Brown.

I’m not really going to go into more detail, because each puzzle just folds into another lead, then another. It’s insane. Now, though, I want to talk about the conflict about this book, which is partially what made it so well-known.

See, the book was banned entirely in countries like Lebanon because it poses some…well, interesting ideas about Christianity. For example, the whole focus of the Priory of Sion is the belief that the Holy Grail is not a cup depicted in da Vinci’s drawing The Last Supper. It’s a woman named Mary Magdalene, who the Priory believes to have married Jesus Christ and bore his child. I go to a religious high school, and yeah, that theory is definitely never brought up. Additionally, the book highly suggests that religious leaders such as the Pope and religious groups such as Opus Dei are surrounded with a dark history of blackmail and altering the true stories of the Bible, simply to make money. As the book says, the Bible isn’t the best book ever written, it was the best book ever sold.

Shots fired.

Brown argues that the book is completely factual, but many opponents of the book aren’t at all interested in listening. And I suppose they have a good reason to; the book does unravel some aspects of religion that Christians and others of faith may find highly offensive. For now, I’m choosing to remain neutral on the issue. I can definitely understand why some would renounce the book, but to me, I would still praise it for its compelling plot-line and lovable characters. If you’re looking for a thriller you can’t put down and will keep you occupied for days to come during quarantine, hit up Leonardo da Vinci, Langdon, Neveu, and the rest of the gang–and just lose yourself in the awesome world Dan Brown has created!

-Katharine L. 😀

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Image result for catch 22

Nearly six decades after its original publication, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 remains one of America’s most valuable – and most entertaining – classics of all time. Depicting the brutal insanity of war in a way no one else has quite managed, Heller and Catch-22 have cemented themselves in American literature.

Set in Italy during World War II, Catch-22 tells the story of the disillusioned bombardier Yossarian, who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are constantly trying to kill him, including both the enemy forces and the people within his own army. 

The most significant of these would-be killers is undeniably the titular Catch-22, which states that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. 

Trapped in this endless cycle of missions and death, the soldiers on the island of Pianosa are forced to adapt to their constant torture by hiding in the hospital ward, enjoying illegal meals in the mess hall, and generally doing their best to be a nuisance to Colonel Cathcart, who continues to raise the missions needed to be relieved from duty.

Combining serious matters with lighthearted humor, Catch-22 is a book that everyone should read at least once in their lives. This fascinating look at the negative aspects of war, inspired by World War II and the Vietnam War, is a book that is impossible to put down. 

-Mahak M. 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library