Book Review: The Fire Seekers by Richard Farr

fire_seekersYou’ve heard the stories repeated, every religion and culture has a different way of telling them, it’s the story of the end of the human race…  Set in modern times, ancient Gods are rising, mass disappearances of people are occurring and a terrorist organization named the Seraphim is at large. 17 year-old Daniel Calder, who has a famous archeologist for a father and America’s top business woman/mountain climber for a mother, has a journey to take in order to save the human race. He has to connect the dots and discover what humanity has been denying since the very first civilizations. In this witty, fast-paced tale, Daniel must rediscover secrets long lost and find out the mystery behind the Fire Seekers.

I noticed that I kept mixing this book up with other series because the voice used by the author is similar to those of Rick Riordan, James Patterson and John Flanagan.  These happen to be some of my favorite authors.  This is a suspenseful mystery novel that relates life in other countries to that of life on American soil.  This story really helps the reader appreciate the circumstances they live in and realize all the bad things in the world that they don’t have to partake in. The reader will get a deeper look at human society in which there are problems that can and can not be fixed. Though this novel is fictional, it rings with truth.  I enjoyed the themes that occur throughout the book including world religion, mythology and childhood independence.

-Evan G., 6th grade

Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

pushing_the_limitsAnybody out there want a romance story that is good, but not as cheesy as Twilight or as heartbreaking as Romeo and Juliet and The Fault in our Stars? Well, you’re in luck!
To start the story off, Echo is a good girl. She gets good grades and has given up art, both are which to please her father. That’s when she has to tutor bad boy Noah, who can get grades if he tries, skips class, smokes weed, and has slept with just about every girl in the school. But both of them are hiding something. Like why does Echo have scars that people whisper about and cause her to wear long sleeves even in summer? And why in Noah in foster care with his two friends Beth and Isaiah, especially without his adorable brothers?
This book is really good. While a main part of the plot is about a certain love relationship (hint: Echo and Noah), there is also the realistic fiction of what goes on in the real world, so it’s not cheesy at all. Also, this couple helps each other get through the problems that they are facing.
Additionally, this story actually ends well, with the couple living on and not dying.
Like all romance books, it has a well felt story. In  this case, it’s the good girl and bad boy meet, good girl and bad boy do not want to admit that they like each other, and good girl and bad boy confess their love story.
Literature wise, it is well written, with the author using both points of view and teaching some “school” stuff, such as a little Spanish.
Finally, the author tells of the common lesson that love can happen unexpectedly.
Please check it out; this book is awesome!
-Megan V., 9th grade

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

jane_eyreUnfortunately Jane Eyre would never become the best seller it once was, if sold within our time. It holds four-hundred odd pages of description-infused writing (hardly any of which is possible to hold in concentration for the average teenager of our generation), a heroine and love interest who both do not seem particularly attractive, overt religious themes mixed in with heavy-handed moral preaching delivered by the author, a plain love story (with a few plot twists thrown in for dramatic affect), etc., etc.

And yet…it has become a story adored by generations, one that has ascended to the lofty consideration of a classic.

Fortunately for me, that meant I was subjected to read this in school, which in turn meant I was definitely not allowed to read it at just face value.

Perhaps two years ago I picked up the book in attempt to immerse myself in a classic for the summer, and at the time, I was incredibly disappointed. Reading it as my impressionable, naïve, opinionated teen self of a few years ago (that I like to think was the Sophia of the past) Jane was a meek protagonist, who was incredibly boring when held up to the “empowered” female protagonists of today. I saw her as too clingy to her outdated morals, and unable to follow “her heart” for love within the book. Predictably I only read through the first half of the novel before sucumbing to complete disatisfaction.

And wow, I was wrong.

Now with two more years of life experience under my belt, along with a hefty dose of analytical interpretation from the English class this assignment was given for, the truth has been revealed in stark comparison. Jane Eyre is actually (when read properly between the lines as well as through its many intricate layers) a compelling and interesting story of 19th century female independence and empowerment, created light years ahead of its time.

It was even considered revolutionary within its time, author Erica Jong stating (of Jane Eyre), “When a book is beloved by readers and hated by contemporary critics, we should suspect that a revolution in consciousness is in progress.”

Jane Eyre is aware of her self-worth. She knows what her morals are, and she stands by them (and unlike many others she sticks to them regardless of the final outcome of her decision). She doesn’t follow the advice of others advising her against marriage, the first time, because she is prudish or caged up or weak unable to sway for love (the mindset I believed before), but instead because she is standing strong for herself, standing by her own integrity and her own beliefs.

Charlotte Bronte masterfully subverts many literary tropes of her time, and of our own. The things that made Jane so unappealing for me before-she was far from perfect (or rather she did not have imaginary flaws seen by only herself; she was completely real, and completely subjected to the human flaws we all have), she was not beautiful which allows her to fall into a relationship with Rochester not based on appearance, but instead due to her true self, not one hidden behind a façade of perfection and beauty.

One of the other things that surprised me after becoming fully immersed in the novel-the dialogue and characters still appear fresh and witty in their interactions. The plot is as intense and immersing as a YA novel of today.

And if you can put aside your phones and your short attention spans for a period of time its 461 pages are filled to the brim with intense gothic imagery and mood, as well as beautiful compelling plot points and twists-things you wouldn’t expect from a novel published 167 years ago.

If you have the time and dedication to read between the lines, perhaps you’ll begin to understand the revolutionary nature of this novel-perhaps even revolutionary for our time.

-Sophia U. 12th grade

Event Recap: Summer Lovin’ 2.0 Tour

summerlovin2.0Over the summer, I had the pleasure to meet four amazing authors at the Mission Viejo Library as a part of the Summer Lovin’ 2.0 Book Tour. These authors include Suzanne Young, Sarah Ockler, C.J. Flood and Jody Casella. Although I haven’t read any of their books yet, I got two at the event (Bittersweet and #Scandal) and I cannot wait to read them! I along with other people asked questions about how they became authors, where they get inspiration and how it affects their day-to-day life.

One question that stood out to me was “How long did it take for you to write your books?” because the answers vary so greatly depending on who you are. For example, for Jody Casella (who used Nanowrimo) took a full year to complete. Meanwhile Sarah Ockler finished her hit #Scandal in 4 years. Jody Casella’s Infinite Sky took three to four years to complete. The funny thing about writing is that its like riding a bike (yes, I know such a cliché simile but yes, I’m going to use it!) at first you’re wobbling, its hard to keep your balance and takes forever. But once you get the hang of it, its a much smoother ride that takes much less time. Just like the simile, Suzanne Young wrote her first book in 4 moths and now it only takes one month for her to finish a writing.

We then asked what these four writers do when they’re not you know, writing. Jody Casella’s only job is to write books although she was once an English teacher at a high school. Sarah Ockler is also a full time writer, as well as CJ Flood. Suzanne Young is a high school English teacher.

More questions followed and so did more answers. These four women are such inspirations for aspiring authors and its amazing to hear each of their stories. At the end of the event, we were given pizza and soda. Quite the way to end such a fun event. These writers were awesome to meet and I’m so glad I went.

-Danielle T., 8th grade

Event Recap: Teen Writing Workshop with Shannon Messenger

shannon_messengerMany of you heard Shannon Messenger speak at the Mission Viejo Summer Lovin’ event last summer.  On Thursday, September 14, 2014, there was another event at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library.  Her teen writing workshop drew over 60 middle schoolers.  Messenger taught us some of the fundamental steps for beginning writers.  She explained characterization and world building as well as plot methods.  Within an hour, I began to feel like a better writer and reader.

One of the first things she recommended was to know your characters and to treat them like real people.  From her personal experience, she advised that you shouldn’t care what people think of you for saying in a conversation, “I want my character to do this, but she won’t let me!”  This cracked everyone up.  As Messenger continued, with a smile, she said we need to know our characters like we know ourselves by asking our character five questions:

  • What does your character want?
  • What does your character need?
  • What is your character afraid of?
  • How does your character feel about himself/herself?
  • What is your character hiding?

The next topic she addressed was building your story’s “world”–big or small, rich or poor, or even fantastic or realistic.  You also need to add in the history, culture, technology, transportation, and government.  The history can be pretty easy.  If it is a fantasy story, you can just make it up, but in a realistic fiction or historical fiction, you may need to research the location.  Culture consists of art, music, fashion, and sports.  The technology means acknowledging the inventions appropriate for your time period.  She advised that transportation can be tricky.  Is your character old enough to drive?  Or do you need to come up with some other means of moving from place to place? Finally, you need to define the type of government, laws, currency, language, and social structure.

The last big topic was “how to.”  Shannon Messenger said that adjectives are one contributing factor to a best-selling author’s success. Use your sensory words to describe different aspects of your town.  Such as, “She saw the blue sky and smelled the fresh scent of pine and evergreen.  As the aroma wafted to her nose, a memory flooded into her mind, and she heard her dad cutting down a Christmas tree for their house before he left for the army.  The scene brought tears to her eyes, and she felt one stray salty tear find its way into her mouth.  She tasted its bitter remembrance.” Using sensory language envelopes the reader in the scene.  In addition, Messenger recommended keeping an “idea journal” to keep track of your great ideas.  Messenger concluded by wishing us good luck and advising us to listen to the stories within us.

This was one of the most helpful writing workshops I have attended.  Shannon Messenger is one of my all-time favorite authors, and you can read my review of her Keeper of the Lost Cities series here.

-Maya S., 7th grade

Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

“‘We came into this world so that we could meet. We didn’t realize it ourselves, but that was the purpose of us coming here. We faced all kinds of complications—things that didn’t make sense, things that defied explanation. Weird things, gory things, sad things. And sometimes even beautiful things. We were asked to make a vow, and we did.We were forced to go through hard times, and we made it. We were able to accomplish the goal that we came here to accomplish.”

1q84Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 has it all: dystopian setting, love story, surrealistic fairy tale, crime, cult, murder. Surely the novel, with its more than 1100 pages, has the space to cover such a panoply of things, but what allows this tome to stand out is its ability to create a seamless yet engrossing narrative. Indeed, despite the novel’s length, I was able to read it in just under three weeks.

Set in Tokyo in 1984, the gist of 1Q84 is dominated by two independent plot lines following two different protagonists. The first surrounds the character Aomame, a thirty-year-old personal trainer who, outside of her regular work, conspires with an old dowager to assassinate men guilty of domestic abuse. The other surrounds Tengo, a thirty-year-old math teacher who works as a writer in his spare time.

While at first the jumping between the two different plots is tremendously confusing, as the novel progresses the reader begins to see hints of how the two plotlines and their characters are related. The general thrust of the novel is the publication of a work called Air Chrysalis. Written by quiet seventeen-year-old Fuka-Eri and reworked by Tengo, the book at first glance appears to be nothing but an enjoyable and unique fairy tale, but ultimately it holds secrets about a mysterious religious organization, Sagikake, of which Fuka-Eri’s father is the leader. Aaomame too becomes involved with Sagikake after the dowager gains information that the leader of the organization engages in the abuse of young girls, in accordance with the cult’s practices.

Yet Sagikake is not the only link between the two protagonists. Perhaps the more compelling aspect of the novel is the fact that Tengo and Aomame are deeply in love with each other, although they have not seen each other since the fourth grade. Ultimately 1Q84 is the story of two lost lovers, a tale told many times before, but the weird, wild journey of their attempt to find each other makes 1Q84 such a compelling read.

-Sebastian R., 12th grade

Juniper Writing Institute: A Life-Changing Experience

photo by flickr user LMRitchie

photo by flickr user LMRitchie

I have been writing for more than half of my lifetime, but because my family moved to the US four years ago, I had to start over. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling to have to hold back something you know you have due to language barrier. For a long time, I begged life for a group of people to share the worlds I created with my pen and soul, but at the same time I worried that I wasn’t good enough to have one. As an international student, I felt that I’m locked, and buried alive.

That was why I was surprised to be accepted by Juniper Writing Institute. I knew this nine-day trip to UMass would greatly influence my life (cliché!), but really, I didn’t expect to receive so much from it.

After spending two months doing a writing sample but changing my mind last minute, flying across the whole country at night on my own with a crying baby on the plane, arriving six hours early and forcing myself to swallow a turkey sandwich that had too much mustard, how can anything be more satisfying and exciting than realizing that I finally met a group of people just like me? “What kind of writing do you do?” is how we start our conversation. Sitting under the shade of the fancy chapel and reading each other our own writings is how we relax. Snapping with big smiles when we hear juicy ideas get read out loud is how we enjoy life and appreciate our talent. I found “my people” for the first time, and even though we were only together for nine days, I found where I belong.

What I love the most was the writing workshop–we discussed each person’s writing sample for 45 minutes. For me, not only did I see many special and unique ideas and styles of writing, but also, I experienced something that changed my view on my own writing. My pod (our small group of twelve people, where I made great friends) surprised me by commenting that I describe things in an uncommon way. I never realized that combining writing style in my first language with English in fact resulted in something different and strong. Through this workshop, I found my strength and self-confidence to write more and better.

One of the most important things I realized from the experience with Juniper is that, a group like the Juniper writers is where I want to belong for the rest of my life. The vitality, intelligent, and possibilities within this group is what I was looking for all my life. Juniper Writing Institute helps me clarified my goal for the future. As young writers, we look at the same world but see differently and argue different sides–the energy from the crashes between angles is what pushes the future forward.

-Wenqing Z., 12th grade