Book Review: Echoes of Us, by Kat Zhang

Note: This is the last book in the Hybrid Chronicles, and may contain minor spoilers from the previous books What’s Left of Me and Once We Were.

echoes_of_usEva and Addie are twin souls in the same body. Eva was supposed to fade away when they were five, but she didn’t. Until recently, Eva hasn’t been able to move, talking only to Addie. But with a little help from some new hybrid friends, Eva was able to take control of the body she shared with Addie. Only to be captured, escape, join an underground resistance, and become even further fugitives in the eyes of the law, that doesn’t trust hybrids in the slightest.

On the other hand, Eva can sometimes be too trusting. When offered a job to go undercover in a hybrid institution by a reporter, Eva jumps at the opportunity in order save the boy Addie loves, even if it means leaving the boy Eva herself loves. Yeah, just because they share the same heart, doesn’t mean they share the same feelings, especially when it comes to love.

Only problems arise when Eva and Addie make their decision. Promises aren’t always kept, people can’t always be trusted, and situations aren’t always what they appear. This is the chance of a lifetime to make some real changes for the hybrid community, but if they aren’t careful, Eva and Addie could be destroyed permanently.

I really liked this series. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the two souls/one body thing at first, but I think that’s kind of the point. It is dystopian-esque more within people than in society, that tries to change people who won’t be “normal.”

I kind of wish Addie narrated part of the trilogy, but it was more of Eva’s story. As most endings, there are some losses in order to obtain a gain for the greater good. The ending was pretty perfect to me. If you enjoyed the first two books, definitely find out how it ends. If you haven’t started this series, I would recommend it to science fiction fans who also enjoy save the world themes with a splash of romance.

-Nicole G., 11th grade

Book Review: How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr

how_to_save_a_lifeJill MacSweeney, a seventeen-year-old trying to find her place in the world, desperately wishes for her life to go back to normal. But ever since her father passed away, she can’t help but feel angry at the world and isolate herself from everyone who tries to support her—her boyfriend, her best friends, even her own family. And when her mother chooses to adopt a baby, Jill feels as if she’s trying to replace a lost family member. Can she accept her mother’s decision and embrace this sudden change in her life?

Mandy Kalinowski, on the other hand, has experienced firsthand what it feels like to grow up unwanted and be raised by a mother who never actually loved her. So when the nineteen-year-old Mandy becomes pregnant, she vows to provide a better life for her baby and find someone who will love her for who she is. Will Mandy be able to overcome her doubts and fears to find that “perfect” family for her and her unborn child?

Written by Sara Zarr, How to Save a Life is a novel that teaches readers about the meaning of life and love. Jill and Mandy are two distinct characters who both show signs that they are “lost.” In the end, they unexpectedly realize that they need one another in order to “find” themselves again. Since I normally prefer the sci-fi, dystopian, action/adventure genres, this realistic, heartfelt fiction book was not in my usual range of interests at all. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I decided to read this book. However, it turned out to be much more than what I expected. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone over the age of fourteen (due to some explicit language), even if you aren’t a fan of realistic fiction like me!

-Kaylie W., 10th grade

Book Review: Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson

steelheartAt last, the age old question is answered: “What if you had superpowers?” In Brandon Sanderson’s postapocalyptic novel, Steelheart, a flash of light appear in the sky, giving random people across the world superpowers of all sorts, nicknamed Epics. With the arrival of newfound power, governments fall and chaos ensues. Powerful, invincible, the strongest Epics lay waste to their enemies, and stake their kingdoms across the Fractured States. Only the Reckoners, a band of ordinary people, dare to fight back. They carefully planned and assassinated the epics.

Steelheart, a brutal and undefeatable Epic, rules his city Newcago with an iron fist. When he kills David’s father, Steelheart sparks an obsession. For his entire life, David studied and theorized how to kill Epics, particularly Steelheart. The Reckoners came to Newcago, and his dreams were finally within reach. When he joins the insurgents, he joins the fight.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, having sped through it immediately after the book fair. Steelheart was kind of a twist on what I would have imagined. Rather than powers being used for the good of all, the people destroyed their own society. Would that be similar to a real life scenario? Maybe every child would think twice about their imaginative birthday wishes. I’d want powers anyways.

Steelheart is written very well, once again proving Sanderson’s skill as a writer. The story is fast paced, exciting, and creative- all the marks of a great thriller. Every scene was carefully detailed and engaging. It was interesting to see how people without powers could stand up against impossible enemies and odds. Also, the story was creative and original. Every time a new Epic was introduced, I could count on a new and unexpected power.

The characters! David constantly adapted to his surroundings, but never changed at heart. His determination, humor, and quirkiness were fun to read about the entire time. Even though he seemed casual on the surface, he knew what to do when the time came. The Reckoners crew provided a variety of characters, from the serious and calculating strategist to the goofball who loved jokes. The only character that was somewhat one-sided was the villain, Steelheart. Still, he made a pretty good bad guy.
All in all, read it! It’s a good book as any, with an awesome storyline. While you’re in the pages, you’ll feel heroic too.

-Phillip X., 9th grade

My Passion for Reading and Writing

bookstack2Ever since I was little, I have loved to read and write. My desire to read a compelling book is very strong. Whenever I find one that I cannot put down, I find other books by the same author, knowing I could read it for hours. Everywhere I go I carry a book, whether it is on my phone, tablet, or the real thing. Reading is my getaway. When I read something that really captures my attention, it is as if I am sucked into the pages. I feel like I am in the story with the characters, seeing everything they see, being where they are. I forget everything around me and put all my focus on the story in front of me. This can go on like this forever before I realize I haven’t moved in hours. Does anyone else experience this? This feeling of being trapped in the pages of my books inspired my passion for writing.

photo by flickr user LMRitchie

photo by flickr user LMRitchie

I love creating settings and story lines for my own books and stories. It is fun to come up with characters’ personalities. I get to write exactly what I want them to do or say. Sometimes the characters end up creating themselves, and that is really exciting for me, when they do what they want. Does that make sense? To me, it does. It means my story is really coming together.

I also love to think up interesting plot twists and cannot wait for it all to fall into place in the end. I have considered being an author in the future and would always think how amazing it would be for people to read my own books. I would love to know if they are surprised by the twists or in love with the characters like I am in some books that I read. If I ever need to get inspired for another story, I always read something of the same genre I am writing. Many of my favorite books have inspired me to start a book or continue a story with fan fiction. I am currently writing a book, inspired by The Host, titled Cyber People. I have also written fan fiction for Divergent, Percy Jackson, and The Mortal Instruments.

When I found out about the Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice blog, when it started about two years ago, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to express my feelings about books and writing. I joined the blog right away, and I have come to love it.

-Sabrina C., 9th grade

Book Review: Wake, by Amanda Hocking

wake_coverWhat story portrays a beautiful setting of the modern world, Greek myths, horror, a Frozen-like sister bond, and a few love stories that seem at have many obstacles thrown at it? Why, of course, it’s Wake, the first book of the Watersong series.
Gemma is an ordinary teenage girl, with an older sister named Harper who is proper, a dad who is torn, a mom who lost her memories after an accident, a crush on the nerdy boy next door, Alex, and a love for swimming. She lives in a small town called Capri, in which there are no strangers. So when four absolutely beautiful girls that no one knows about arrive in town, people become suspicious, especially when one goes missing and the three girls take an interest in Gemma. That’s when Gemma drinks a mysterious potion given to her by the same three girls that turns her into a mythical siren, with a tail, love for swimming, ability to attract any boy, and a desire to eat human flesh.
This story has an excellent plot, with real-life characters and surprising twists. For those who love mythology, there aren’t just sirens; there are mentions of the Olympians, the Minotaur, and Orpheus. But the thing I feel that others would like most is the important messages, such as why we should only have sex with the right person, the corruption of power, and the importance of bonds with others. However, this book does have some more adult scenes, so anybody under the age of 13 should wait to read it.
-Megan V., 10th grade

Would You Stay?

Here’s the secret, baby: if you live, if you die, it’s all up to you. So whatever fight you got in you, you gotta pull it out now.” – If I Stay.

if_i_stay_posterWhen I first picked this book up I could not get past the first chapter, and left it on my book shelf. Fast forward three or four years after seeing the movie trailer, which took my breath away and left me in tears, I had to pick up the book again and give it another shot. I am more than happy that I did, because I could not put the book down.

Multiple times I would lose myself in the book and by the time I looked at the clock I had ready four hours. I found myself constantly thinking about the book and counting down the days till the movie was released, re reading the book multiple times just to get that feeling again. I even got the chance to see that movie, another time that I shed my fair share of tears.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is the story of Mia, an average seventeen-year-old girl who has a lot to love in life; she is a cellist with a chance at making it into Julliard. Her family and friends give the story an added bonus with their loving, caring, charming, and lively qualities. And Adam, her perfect boyfriend– their love makes the story and makes it that much better. But after a car accident takes away her mom, dad, and brother, she is forced to make the choice between life and death.

I always put myself in the character’s place, when reading, and after I found myself constantly wondering what I would do if I had to make the decision.

Before even starting the book my decision, was without a doubt I would stay. But about half way through the book I changed my mind. During one of the many flashbacks, this one in particular was when Mia’s dad quits his band so he could make a better life for Mia and her brother soon to be born.

This brought into play my sister, and how I could not imagine living without her, how I would never be able to call her, or sing songs with her. So the choice seemed again, easy.

But that was leaving a blind eye to the fact that I would be giving up everything that I had already worked for. And all the dreams I had, and the thing that I had not been given the opportunity to do. The friends I have not made, the books I have not read, the music I have not heard. And was I really willing to give all that up?

So I was stuck again just like Mia, thinking about all the things that would be keeping me from making the decision either way.

The perfect was to describe it is a part in both the movie and the book where Mia and her mom discuss the in convinces of falling in love at seventeen and how she is torn in half over a decision. She explains, “Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you?”

This seems small when in the book, just something a parent says, that we would probably ignore. But after thinking about it, those fourteen words split into three sentences describe the whole book and was genius representation of universal theme. That conveys all the emotion and the hard truth of the book.

Which is why this became a big changer for me again, and I realized that either way I would never be completely happy with the decision. So I end this with my favorite quote of the book, one that I believe is different for everybody and describe the choice perfectly.

“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you.” – Gayle Forman

-Shelby B., 10th grade

Book Review: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

hobbit_coverHere is the story of Mr. Bilbo Baggins:

Bilbo, a creature who doesn’t really have a taste for adventure and never travels further than his cupboards, is greeted by a wizard, Gandalf, and fourteen dwarves.  Gandalf had chosen Mr. Baggins to join them on their adventure to The Lonely Mountains as the burglar.  He becomes very hesitant but agrees.  The visitors have a feast and stayed the night inside the hobbit’s cozy hole.  Bilbo wakes up and finds that he is alone. At 10:45 Gandalf comes by and tells Bilbo that the dwarves left a note saying to meet them at the Dragon Inn, Bywater at eleven sharp.  Mr. Baggins races there and arrives just in time.  With everyone on their horses their journey begins.

Along the way they get themselves into quite a few mishaps, such as being caught by trolls and goblins, almost being eaten by spiders, and many more.  Many months later, they finally reach the mountains.  The group is there for the treasure inside, but it is guarded by a fearsome dragon.  Will they be able to retrieve the loot they came all this way for?  Or will something else happen?

I really liked this book because it has unique places and page-turning chapters.  It has adventure, cliff-hangers, and a bit of fantasy.  I hope you enjoy this story.

-Samantha S., 8th grade

Book Review: Positive, by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin

positivePositive is a memoir by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin that tells the story of Paige’s life growing up being HIV positive since birth.

Positive was a unique book choice for me as I typically do not read memoirs; in fact, I usually avoid them like the plague. My problem with  memoirs is that they are often written by people that while they have experienced something unique in their life are just ordinary people, not writers. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the stories told in memoirs, I do, it’s that too often they feel like assigned reading that I just can’t get through to matter how much I may want to.

I had this problem with I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate her story, it was just clearly not written by a writer, and I just couldn’t get through it, despite the captivating story. Still even with my past difficulties getting through these types of book something about Paige’s story interested me enough to give it a go, and I am so glad that I did.

Manga Introduction: Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

fullmetal_alchemist“There’s no such thing as a painless lesson-they just don’t exist. Sacrifices are necessary. You can’t gain anything without losing something first. Although if you can endure that pain and walk away from it, you’ll find that you now have a heart strong enough to overcome any obstacle. Yeah… a heart made Fullmetal.”- Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa.

Edward Elric and his younger brother Alphonse are in search of the sorcerer’s stone in order to restore their bodies after a fail human transmutation. Human transmutation is one of the forms of alchemy, but the brothers are determined to have their full bodies back . They might seem like a odd pair with the elder at 4’8″ with a automail arm and leg and the younger twice the height trapped in a suit of armor yet even with these odd fact, the brothers fight to gain what they want.

Here are some fact about Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa:

  • It was published in July of 2001 and ended 9 years later in July of 2010
  • There are 27 tankobon volumes (manga books) with 4-5 chapters in each.
  • It was published monthly by Square Enix in the magazine Monthly Shōnen Gangan
  • The Fullmetal Alchemist manga has sold approximately 61 million volumes as of 2013.
  • The English release of the manga’s first volume was the top-selling graphic novel during 2005.
  • In two TV Asahi web polls, the anime was voted the most popular anime of all time in Japan. At the American Anime Awards in February 2007, it was eligible for eight awards, nominated for six, and won five
  • There is an ongoing light novel series.
  • It has two anime series. The first one is called Fullmetal Alchemist and does not follow the original plot of the manga. The second series is called Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and follows most of the manga’s plot. Each series has a full-length anime film, Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa and Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos respectively, to complete the series.

This is such an amazing series that I could go on with the facts but instead I will write about what I think of this manga. This is truly one of the best I have seen or read. It has a near perfect mix of characters and themes to spin a wonderful tale of adventure and excitement. One of my favorite things about this manga is that each characters each have their own quirks. Such as the main character, Edward Elric, sensitivity about his height and his habit of exploding and uttering comical lines of frustration.

“Shorty?! Could a shorty do this?! What else you want to call me: a half-pint bean-sprout midget?! I’m still growing you backwater desert idiots!” – An example of Edward Elric “short rants”

Another thing to admire about this manga is the many important themes it brings. Yes, this is set in another universe but there are many themes that could be applied to daily life. Such as the importance of a family and how they can make a difference in someone. There are many quotes in the manga that are worth memorizing. This is a very complex manga to explain in words. It easier to just read it and decide what you think. So why don’t you?

– Sarah J., 10th grade

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

catcher_in_the_rye_cover“The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” -Wilhelm Steckel

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, although highly controversial, is no doubt in my opinion a work of art. Most people who have read this book either love it or hate it, and if not properly read and analyzed, it’s completely understandable if you hate it. On the surface it’s a boring story about a whiny teenager moping around New York City, but really its so much more than that.

Holden Caufield tries to mask his sensitive and delicate true character with a crude and uncaring persona, and with deep reading, it’s apparent when his real character bubbles its way to the surface. He travels around New York City revealing bits and pieces of his true identity as the book progresses. While he reveals information about his character, we also learn about his past, which you are taken back to beginning in almost the first chapter. All in all, I greatly appreciate this book and I hope more people will enjoy reading it.

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

-Sara S., 11th grade