The Extrodinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

The book The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict was inundated with adventure from beginning to end. The book had you on your seat’s edge throughout the entire story. This book was witty with great banter between the characters. There is the classic character, of a main bully, with his two friends who make the children’s life miserable. If, you are interested in fairy tales and a more whimsical story, this book is probably not the correct book for you. The story is about an orphan named Nicholas Benedict, who is a very bright boy known for being smarter than most adults. He is going to a new orphanage where he learns  that there is a mystery treasure to be found. He sets out on a hunt to find it, along the way he finds new friends. Unfortunately there are also obstacles to the treasure hunt adventure, his condition of narcolepsy, which has him falling asleep at odd times. The other obstacle is the fact that the head of the orphanage is also trying to find the treasure. It turns into a race to see who can find the treasure first. This book is for people who love to solve mysteries and enjoy the unlikely heroes, or the underdogs rising out on top. “The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict” is a wonderful read and I would say you are never to old to read it and enjoy what it has to offer.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

The death of Harry Potter’s godfather, Sirius Black, has made Harry more grown up than ever before. Now he feels that he has to put an end to Voldemort’s reign of terror, even if it kills him. Dumbledore picks Harry up before the end of summer to go on a mystery errand. The errand is to get Horace Slughorn to teach again at Hogwarts. Back at Hogwarts for Harry’s sixth year, he is extremely excited. He is now the Quidditch team captain. However, Harry also finds out and is gloomy that Professor Snape has achieved his longtime goal of being the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry has also started taking private lessons with Dumbledore to learn as much about Voldemort as he can. Hopefully this information will help if Harry ever comes face to face with Voldemort. Early on in Harry’s Potions class he acquires a mysterious book that used to be the Half Blood Prince’s. The book tells Harry everything he needs to know about potions. Harry’s sudden knowledge amazes everyone. He also grows a suspicion that Draco Malfoy has replaced his father as the leader of the Death Eaters. Harry, throughout the year, keeps a close eye on Draco just in case. Ron and Hermione see this idea as a far stretch, but Harry feels like something has to be happening with Draco frequently leaving school grounds. As the year continues, Dumbledore tells Harry that he may be able to go on a special mission to destroy a horcrux. A horcrux is an item that contains a part of Voldemort’s soul. Destroying them makes Voldemort weaker. When Harry and Voldemort leave on their mission to destroy the horcrux, Draco sneaks Death Eaters into the school, and a battle between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters takes place. Harry and Dumbledore return after getting the horcrux, but they are trapped on the Astronomy Tower. On the Tower, Draco disarms Dumbledore and Professor Snape kills him. Dumbledore’s death had a massive impact on Harry, but it helped him to see what he had to do.

-Emilio V.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

In my opinion, Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna was one of my favorite reads this summer. I’ve been pretty content to say that my summer reading list has been comprised of some pretty awesome (for a lack of a better word) books, but this combination of a mystery and thriller book blew me away.

When you first realize the plot, it’s not the most exciting one in the world (not that it stays that way). Not one like Harry Potter, where you find out about Hogwarts, and the next second, everyone’s flying on broomsticks, and you really envied all those magical children out there that were casting spells and you were sitting at home reading about them. No, Two Girls Down is a whole other story.

The story is centered around two sisters, Kylie and Bailey Brandt, and their mother, Jamie Brandt. The story started off at an intriguing pace, leaving me turning the pages hastily to keep up. I was hooked from the very beginning. I loved how the author developed her characters right off the bat, letting everyone know the sister’s similarities and yet quite noticeable differences, too. This would become essential later in the story.

Things are pretty average at the beginning of the story. The two girls’ mother, Jamie, is leading a not-so-perfect-with-a-cherry-on-top life, but she manages. Their father left them a long time ago, claiming not to have the time or energy to raise two young girls. But one day, Jamie’s world shatters and tumbles into a whirlwind of chaos as her beloved daughters, Kylie and Bailey, vanish underneath her very eyes.

The girls are last seen in the parking lot of a mall, where Jamie left them to go shopping for a gift for Kylie’s friend’s birthday. When she gets back, no traces of them remain, and she begins to become frantic.

But here, in shining armor, rise the heroines of the thriller. A very, very unlikely pair. A retired officer named Max Caplan, and a former bounty hunter, Alice Vega, brought together by strange events that could only be the doing of fate, put aside their differences and share their knowledge with each other on a wild chase from town to town, desperate to find the missing girls.

Alice Vega proved to be someone who worked in a solitary way, not needing accomplices or friends, but a tough, hardened woman who could fight life’s problems on her own. But she realizes that she could have never fight alone again after meeting Max Caplan, who proves to be a kind, more logical figure in the mystery. It was one of the weirdest crime fighting pairs I’d ever read about, but once I started, they quickly rose to one of my favorites. They balanced each other out so well, and I really enjoyed the way the author chose to incorporate that.

To read the novel was like being a detective on your own part. I felt fully immersed while reading, feeling the pair’s frustration, their anger and pain, their sorrow throughout the journey (all while I sat motionless on my couch and my eyes burned holes into the pages). My heart pounded when fight scenes emerged, and later, sighing in disappointment as different leads fell away.

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who’s wanted to read a mystery thriller, because I think it’s truly exceptional. I would have never guessed the ending, since the author gave nothing away. The leads and evidence tied together so perfectly in such an intricate fashion that I was never tempted to put the book down, even after I read it twice. I promise, you won’t be disappointed by this read!

-Katherine L.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Artemis by Andy Weir

The bestselling author of The Martian returns to pen and paper in his thrilling second novel, Artemis, with a spitfire narrator and slightly different setting – that is to say, this time, it’s set on the moon instead of the strangely familiar planet we’ve come to know as Mars.

Artemis follows the storyline of sarcastic protagonist Jazz Bashara, whose adventures diverge subtly from her interstellar neighbor Mark Watney’s. Neither hero nor villain, she might fall into the subcategory of antihero, which might be why she is so charming to watch through the pages. Her tripwire wit and sharp-as-cheddar intelligence propel readers through the high-stakes book with frightening speed.

What’s so attractive about reading Weir’s books is the fact that he integrates real science into his science fiction novels. Unlike many sci-fi authors swimming in imagined futuristic cities, Andy Weir weaves together a world that is almost tangible – you might even suggest that his ideas could occur in real life.

Though you wouldn’t know it, of course, being trapped in Jazz’s surreal lunar world. The thoroughly entertaining heist that we go on to see her execute, followed by the lightning-quick action that subsequently trails on its heels, is anything but reality. You’ll find yourself immersed in Weir’s real-but-not-real galactic realm, with no way out.

And that’s a good thing. Jazz’s wit and spunk keep the readers on their toes, and the secondary characters round the story out to existence. Ultimately, Weir’s fabricated, anti-gravity dimension lures audiences in with its honest science and entertaining plotline, arguably in ways The Martian never did(or could).

So, I’m first in line for an expedition to the moon. Care to join?

Esther H.

Artemis by Andy Weir is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Asian-American Representation Matters: Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved, and Searching Are Only the Beginning

Recently, three remarkable and very popular movies have come out: Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved, and Searching, all which feature Asian leads. These movies have become highly-acclaimed and well-loved, all garnering positive reviews and ratings. The three movies obviously are must-watches, but they mean something so much more to Asian-Americans: their positive, humanized representation in the media after a history of disparaging stereotypes.

Asian Americans have been mistreated by popular culture and media for decades, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and white-washing characters relentlessly. Asians are stereotyped as nerdy, anti-social, and unathletic; Asian women are seen as submissive and quiet and are sometimes over-fetishized, while Asian men are emasculated and seen as undesirable and unattractive. These are seen in popular movies from Breakfast in Tiffany’s to Pitch Perfect. The amount of blatant white-washing is almost uncountable; from Ghost in the Shell to The Great Wall to Doctor Strange, where roles that were meant for Asian actors were given to white people (one being Scarlett Johansonn, unsurprisingly), Asians are virtually invisible in the show business and subject to racial abuses.

Crazy Rich Asians is so important to change the perspective of Asians in the media. It is the first majority-Asian cast since Joy Luck Club, which was made 25 years ago. Crazy Rich Asians proves that Asians, despite popular belief, can do well in the box office: it is now the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade.

After Crazy Rich Asians, many Asian Americans have taken to social media to express their gratitude and happiness for finally seeing people that look like them on the screen. Jeff Yang, an Asian journalist, tweeted “Why am I #ProudToBeAsian? I’m #ProudToBeAsian because I FINALLY feel like we’re being seen and heard.” He continued on to state how “all of my life, I’ve been told to hide my food, speak louder, hold my tongue, go back where I came from, break out of my box and now I literally DGAF what you have to say if you’re not coming with respect for me and my people.”

Another tweet by an Asian writer and director, Gary King, stated how it feels wonderful “to see [Henry Golding] on screen vs. what I grew up on (and was told by the media how they thought of me). Representation matters.” The tweet was accompanied by a photo of Henry Golding and contrasting photos of the negative, emasculated, racist portrayals of Asians in the media, such as Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast At Tiffany’s, who was played by Michael Rooney wearing yellow-face and emphasized Asian stereotypes as a form of comedic relief.

Similarly, another tweet stated how “Representation matters. Not just for actors but for everyone who wants to see someone that looks like them in a big Hollywood movie. I hope this movie smashes records and shows young Asian Americans they can be the hero of their own story.”

There was even a viral thread made by Kimberly Yam, a journalist, who spoke about her moments of shame and realization growing up Asian in a world that “makes a mockery of our existence.” She explains how the people around her made her not want to be Asian anymore and how slowly she began to love her heritage and culture again; Crazy Rich Asians is a symbol of long-deserved victory.

Crazy Rich Asians is an incredible, but long-awaited development for Asian-Americans. Crazy Rich Asians was also followed by the popular Netflix film, To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved, which features Lana Candor, a Korean American actress, as the female protagonist. This is another development in changing the way Asians are viewed in the mass media. Even Lana Candor, the actress herself, has expressed surprise about landing the role.

“I never thought I would be so lucky to be the lead of a romcom,” said Lana Condor in an interview. “Simply because I don’t get those opportunities, for probably many reasons, but one of would likely be because I’m Asian. So when I got the audition and it said they were looking for an Asian American girl to play the lead love interest in a romcom, I was shocked. Truly. I just had never gotten that before.”

She continues on to say how Asians are rarely considered for movie roles. “I have had experiences where they say open to all ethnicities, and then I get there and it’s a bunch of blonde, blue-eyed beautiful ladies. And then myself,” said Condor. “And then I have to ask, why am I here? If we’re all auditioning for the same role, it clearly looks like you [the production] already have a picture in your mind.”

The writer of To All the Boys, Jenny Han, has also expressed how the film was almost white-washed. “Early on, I had conversations with producers who were interested in optioning the book, but the interest faded when I told them Lara Jean had to be Asian,” Han said. “They didn’t understand why she had to be Asian when there was nothing explicitly in the story that required her to be. For me, it’s not a matter of why, she simply is. And in a more equitable world, I wouldn’t have to justify that.”

To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved might have been an enjoyable, refreshing rom-com expressing young love to most people. To Asian-Americans, it is another step toward the journey of being accurately represented in the media.

Arden Cho, a Korean-American actor, expressed the importance of Lara Jean as the female lead. She states that as a child,  “I loved every romcom movie but they always made me feel like you had to be white to be beautiful, to fall in love, to be the lead . . . all I knew was I looked different and I hated it  . . . Seeing Lara Jean as the lead of [her] stor[y] was so powerful, so necessary.”

What is so important about To All the Boys is that Covey’s love life is not affected by her ethnicity. There are no stereotypes about her being a nerdy, quiet, or submissive Asian girl. To All the Boys normalizes the fact that all races fall in love and can have a cute love story — Asians included.

Finally, the most recent movie in theaters is Searching, a movie that features John Cho as the male protagonist, a father who is searching for clues about his missing daughter. This movie is also changing the narrative around Asian-Americans by featuring an Asian-American as a lead instead of a white actor. The movie has a 93% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and many people have expressed their happiness that an Korean-American actor takes a role that would traditionally be played by white men.

The golden age of Asian-Americans is dawning. No longer will we be invisible. This time, we will not be quiet.

-Audrey X.

Hunger by Michael Grant

Hunger, written by Michael Grant, is the well written sequel to Gone. In the first book, everyone above the age of fifteen disappears. The other kids, fourteen and under, need to survive. But, when the kids have their birthday and turn fifteen, they have a choice. They could either step out of the FAYZ (the area where all adults have disappeared) or they could stay. In Hunger, Sam and his friends decide to stay, and now the kids are running out of food, water, and are on the brink of death.

I really enjoyed this book; especially because of how suspenseful and gruesome it is compared to the first novel. Even in the first chapter, a innocent boy dies to a swarm of mutated worms that burrow into his body. This was a thrilling start to the book and kept me on edge throughout the novel!

Beside food shortages, Sam’s evil brother Caine is back and wants revenge. In between books, Caine has been visiting a dark creature. It has been living under ground in a mine shaft waiting for someone to find it. In order to survive, the Darkness needs  radioactive substances. Caine goes to the power plant, takes it over, and then takes the Darkness its food.

In the climax of the book, Sam and his friends try to stop Caine and the Darkness. Surprisingly, Caine ends up betraying the Darkness and burying it in the mine shaft! Sam and Caine part ways and the kids discover a way to produce food by fishing and farming. I really enjoyed this book, especially with all of its surprising twists, deaths, and an all around great story line.

-Daniel C

Hunger by Michael Grant is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Film Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians, the movie everybody is obsessed with. And yes, it was nice to see a lot of diversity in a movie but, as a Romantic Comedy goes, it did not really have that many jokes. And the story line was just like every other Romantic movie that has every been made. Though, Constance Wu is a great actor and I was really excited to see her in something other than Fresh Off the Boat, I was just kind of expecting more.

As someone who is Asian, I could definitely appreciate the jokes that was in the movie because, most of them were pretty relatable. But, in my opinion there could have been more jokes. Because, even though it was labeled a Rom Com I feel like it was mostly just a romantic movie with a little bit of comedy sprinkled in. Which, was not the way it was advertised or talked about. From they way people talked about it, I was expected it to be super funny and I had really high expectations which where not met.

Overall, the story line was about a New York economics professor Rachel Chu who falls in love with Nick Young who is part of a super rich family for Singapore. Nick brings Rachel to Singapore to meet his family who does not approve of her. But, eventually she gets their approval and Nick proposes to her. This follows the typical Romantic movie formula and as someone who doesn’t really care for Romantic movies to begin with it kind of bored me. Though, I might have not liked it because it is not really a style of movie that I care for.

But, if you are someone who is into Romantic Movies, it is probably a great movie for you to watch. And it is still slightly funny, especially if you can get the jokes. So if you’re looking for a Romantic Movie to watch I would watch this one but, just don’t expect it to be that different from any other romantic movie.

-Ava G.